Updated: September 23, 2015 at 3:37 pm
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The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Sept. 18, 2015
Conservation officer job impressive
South Dakota's conservation officers are tasked with heavy duties.
Most of all, they're responsible for protecting our state's wildlife laws and preserving conservation. They're on the lake, in the woods and trenching through fields. As one conservation officer described it to our newspaper recently, they're the "law enforcement off the pavement."
Recently, we profiled some of the work of South Dakota's Game, Fish and Parks Department conservation officers. And after learning their duties, we have to say, they really are important to South Dakota.
It's easy to point out we need conservation officers to monitor outdoor enthusiasts such as fishermen and women and the people who enjoy hunting. We need to have law enforcement officers who ensure we're following laws and regulations to keep our outdoor heritage strong for decades in the future.
It's their job to check hunting and fishing licenses, which help fund conservation as a whole. It's the conservation officer's job to ensure people harvesting animals, birds and fishing are abiding by daily limits. These people keep our wildlife and fish populations at suitable levels.
Also impressive about our state's conservation officers is that they're state-certified officers who assist our police officers and sheriff's departments regularly. One of the most notable incidents in South Dakota this year that law enforcement responded to was in rural Kimball, where several officers took on gunfire from two men who barricaded themselves in a home. One state highway patrolman was struck by a round. Conservation officers assisted in that incident to aid in the safety of other law enforcement officers.
They've also helped save people who are drowning, organized youth hunts, been leaders at HuntSAFE education courses and conducted many other duties that sometimes go unnoticed.
We certainly thank the efforts of our state's conservation officers. They do so many things for us. The job, which takes an extremely skilled person, is certainly more than writing tickets and checking licenses.
Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Sept. 19, 2015
Teacher retire-rehire proposal is flawed idea
A growing shortage of qualified teachers in South Dakota has given rise to a number of ideas for stop-gap measures.
Discussions have included changing qualifications for math instructors, giving non-teachers the opportunity to be in the classroom while they pick up the appropriate college training and increasing online instruction offerings.
But a recently advanced idea to allow retired teachers to go back to teaching jobs in public schools is not a good solution.
The state retirement board has indicated it is not interested in the policy change as presented by the executive director of the School Administrators of South Dakota, and they should stay that course.
We understand the teacher shortage is real and worsening in South Dakota. There are districts struggling to find qualified applicants and some positions are going unfilled. The problem is aggravated by low pay and the inability to change that or to find the statewide collective will to really try.
Low pay is largely to blame for estimates that about half of the expected 3,300 plus teachers graduating from South Dakota universities over the next four years will take their diplomas and leave the state.
It is certainly a dire situation. But allowing teachers who are part of the South Dakota state retirement program, to take retirement, then return to classrooms is an expensive Band-Aid. It might seem like a good fit for a particular teacher in a particular district, but it's not a good statewide policy.
Such a move, which was allowed under South Dakota law until that was changed in 2010, would cost an estimated $6.2 million more a year. And the incentive to retire early and double-dip would probably encourage more teachers to leave early, causing even more upheaval in some districts.
There are some good ideas being floated to start to come to grips with the teacher shortage. A blue ribbon task force is wrapping up its work after a year of hearings and presentations on education challenges in this state, including the shortage. We look forward to their recommendations, scheduled to be announced this fall.
There undoubtedly will be good ideas on the table and the recommendations should get vigorous debate in Pierre next legislative session.
We hope those recommendations include a sellable way to pay teachers more. But that can't — and won't — be the only suggestion.
All ideas — like this one — should be aired and debated. But we don't see this "retire-rehire" proposition as a workable solution long-term.
Watertown Public Opinion, Watertown, Sept. 22, 2015
Pipelines are better than the alternative
This past weekend, as reported in Monday's edition of the Public Opinion, we all saw and read that "it" can happen here.
What is "it"?
A train derailment and subsequently, tanker cars on fire.
What before this weekend was something that happened elsewhere (out of sight, out of mind), came home to roost right here in eastern South Dakota.
The Burlington Northern Santa Fe train, 98 cars long, was carrying tanker cars from Mina, S.D., to Deer Park, Texas. It was traveling at 10 mph at the time of the accident.
It's important to note no one was hurt when the cars derailed Saturday morning. The derailment occurred between the towns of Scotland and Lesterville over a small wooden bridge that spanned a dry creek.
Seven cars loaded with ethanol derailed, three of them ruptured and the ethanol caught fire. Emergency crews from both Yankton and Bon Homme counties responded, as did fire fighters from Scotland Lesterville, Menno, Tabor and Tyndall.
Crews let the fire burn itself out since there were no structures in the vicinity and, with high moisture and low winds in the area, nothing else was in danger of igniting.
The on-site investigation will take up to five days, possibly longer, to determine what caused the derailment.
For us, this near-tragedy is a reminder of why we need to build pipelines to transport volatile products like oil, gas and even ethanol.
There are a number of oil pipelines on the docket nationally, including the Keystone XL pipeline that's been caught up in Washington, D.C., politics for more than a half-decade. It's been tied up so long, in fact, that the South Dakota Public Utility Commission had to hold hearings for the second time to allow it to be built in and traverse our state.
It is clear to us a pipeline transporting those products is infinitely safer than using over-the-ground railroads or trucks. News reports of train derailments and resulting explosions, including the near destruction of a small town in Canada only proves the point.
How bad did it get? In the township of Lac-Megantic in the province of Quebec, on July 6, 2013, a 74-car freight train carrying North Dakota crude oil rolled down a hill derailed downtown, causing multiple tank cars to explode and burn.
Forty-two people were confirmed dead, with five more missing and presumed dead. More than 30 buildings in the town's center, roughly half of the downtown area, were destroyed. All but three of the 39 remaining downtown buildings are to be demolished due to petroleum contamination of the townsite.
Sure pipelines do have problems, including spills and leaks, but no devastation like the Canadian town experienced. The current practice of shipping oil in large quantities from Canada and North Dakota to refineries in the south via trains, is a game of Russian roulette, and the odds are against the people who live in communities where those trains pass through.
Note: This is not an indictment of railroads. Not in the least bit. Our sense is they are doing all that they can to make their lines safer and tanker cars less prone to exploding in a crash or derailment.
It is, however, a statement in support of decades of successfully transporting oil-based products through underground pipelines that crisscross the nation. Given the choice of a 100-car oil train traversing through Watertown or another pipeline underground doing the same job, we would pick a pipeline over railcar any time, any day.
When will the White House and Congress understand that simple idea and get approving the needed oil pipeline infrastructure upgrades and additions needed in this country?
Or will they wait until another rail-car derailment occurs and more lives are lost as a result?