Legislative Action Opens Lakes
In a move hailed as good news for sportsmen and landowners, the South Dakota Legislature passed a bill that reopens 27 non-meandering lakes to public use.
On Monday, a special session of the Legislature passed HB1001, a bill that calls for all non-meandering waters to be immediately opened to public use unless otherwise posted as closed.
As of Tuesday, GFP staff will have removed all cables that previously restricted access to boat ramps. Full services will be restored by the end of the week; which includes having docks back in the water.
Non-meandering waters are lakes created by heavy snow and rain in the 1990s. A Supreme Court decision in March called on the Legislature to make rules determining the rights of sportsmen and landowners with regard to the use of non-meandering waters.
In response to that ruling the GFP had closed 27 bodies of water in the state to public use, prompting the special session. Bullhead, Cattail-Kettle, and Opitz Lakes in Marshall County had been closed.
A legislative study committee held hearings this spring, took testimony and visited flooded farmlands. The result of their deliberations was HB1001.
“This is a win-win situation for sportsmen and landowners,” said Rep. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, the bill’s sponsor.
A common theme throughout the debate in the House and the Senate was the respect afforded to landowners through the legislation.
While the bill automatically reopens to public use 27 popular lakes that have improvements such as boat ramps that were publicly funded through the GFP and were closed by the Supreme Court injunction, it does allow people who own the land beneath those lakes to petition the Game, Fish and Parks Department for their closure. Other landowners with non-meandering waters on their property can close the lakes by posting the area with signs and buoys.
The legislation has an emergency clause putting it into effect once signed by the governor. In order for the emergency clause to work, the legislation had to pass with a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Legislature.
The bill also includes a prohibition on landowners charging fees for the use of non-meandering waters that they have closed, and there is liability protection for landowners.
Rep. Lee Qualm, R-Platte, who led the interim study committee, urged members of the House to “give landowners some respect and get the lakes back open.”
Another recurring theme was the notion that the bill was imperfect but represented the Legislature’s best effort.
“This is an imperfect bill,” said Rep. Spencer Hawley, D-Brookings. “This is the best we can get for both sides.”
The bill passed through the House on a 52-16 vote after three amendment attempts failed. Some opponents of the bill said that it offered too much power to landowners while others said it gave landowners too little.
“It gives the rights to property owners,” said Rep. Tim Rounds, R-Pierre, referring to landowners’ ability to post lakes on their land as closed to public use. “Once we give this right to landowners, we’ll never be able to get it back.”
In the Senate, Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, said the bill represented a taking of landowners’ rights. Nelson called the compromise legislation “a compromise of these peoples’ rights. These farmers have been abused for decades.”
An amended version of the bill, changing its sunset date from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2018, passed the Senate on a 26-7 vote.
Sen. Jeff Partridge, R-Rapid City, said current legislators should deal with the law’s sunset date rather than a new batch of lawmakers who come to Pierre after the next election.
“We, the legislators of today, have the right to change it,” Partridge said of dealing with the legislation prior to the sunset date. “It will force us to make tweaks to this bill.”
The amended version of the bill was accepted by the House. The legislation went on to the governor who signed the bill Monday night.