YANKTON, S.D. (AP) — The Yankton Sioux Tribe won’t be getting National Guard assistance to bolster flood relief efforts at rain-swollen Lake Andes, at least for now.
The South Dakota Department of Public Safety said Tuesday that it recommended declining the request because the tribe has other options available. However, the state said it is willing to provide other aid in the meantime.
Flooding has cut off Highway 18/50/281 east of Lake Andes, the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan reported Wednesday. The road has been mostly closed since March. The state Department of Transportation responded by raising the highway several feet. The road re-opened for about two weeks, only to close again following more flooding two weeks ago.
Tribal leaders told KSFY-TV that the two rounds of flooding have taken taking a toll on members, cutting off a housing unit from the town and straining tribal resources.
“We have a little too much of that water, and it’s creating distress,” Tribal Chairman Robert Flying Hawk told the station. “The moisture is creating mold in the homes and affecting our breathing.”
Flying Hawk wrote to Gov. Kristi Noem last week asking for National Guard assistance, however DPS Cabinet Secretary Craig Price replied to Flying Hawk in a letter Monday, saying National Guard help didn’t appear necessary in this case.
“Your letter notes you are requesting any and all assistance from the South Dakota National Guard; however, your letter has not identified a specific task for the Guard to perform,” Price wrote. “Governor Noem has reiterated many times that she would use the National Guard judiciously and only as a last resort.”
Noem visited Lake Andes to inspect flooding last July. She also included the county in a federal disaster declaration that covers the Yankton Sioux Tribe.
Prospects don’t look good for quickly re-opening the flooded highway, according to Craig Smith, a regional engineer with the transportation department.
“The highway was closed due to the heavy rain events a couple weeks ago and remains closed. At this time, DOT will monitor the water levels to assess when the roadway can be re-opened to traffic,” Smith said. “Once the water recedes, we will assess if any damage occurred and make repairs as needed.”
According to one local, the water this week stood two feet above the raised highway and about six feet above the original highway.
Transportation department staffers met Friday with tribal and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials to discuss building a berm. Price said in his letter that the Corps provided instructions and technical advice. He said they presume the tribe wants the National Guard to construct the berm, but that the tribe should tap other resources, since tribal officials indicated they had access to Bureau of Indian Affairs materials and tribally owned construction equipment.
But Tribal Vice Chairman Jason Cook told KSFY that tribal members don’t necessarily have the expertise to carry out the work.