On Tuesday, June 13, Pennington County Commissioner George Ferebee gave an interview on Rapid City’s KIMM radio station to defend his ambiguous position on completing the 12 year South Rochford Road project. Many of our residents tuned in to be enlightened, some having to drive their cars in order to pick up the signal. However, all we heard (again) were a regurgitation of misinformation, half-truths and opinion not supported by facts or statistics. Here are some of the examples that have us shaking our heads:
-Commissioner Ferebee claimed he has never seen an estimate for completing the road. Two estimates were presented by the Pennington County Highway Dept. Superintendent during the Special Meeting on June 7.
-He stated that no work was done between 2005 and 2010 (and he tried to blame previous commissioners). Not correct. Quite a bit of work was done (engineering firm hired, surveys performed, cultural surveys done) and much of this work is still valid, has value and could be used when the project progresses.
-When Mr. Ferebee spoke about the Environmental Impact Study, he said he believed it was “archeological” and had something to do with the fens. Nothing confirmed more vividly that either Mr. Ferebee had not read the reports or may not understand them. The studies were collaboration between all the stakeholders (governmental, private and tribal) to evaluate multiple options and choose the one that would best serve the area and its residents. One result was the ability to get a waiver to reduce the width of the road so that it is only 2 feet wider than the current road and minimize the right of way that would need to be obtained (most of it from the Forest Service) since the accepted alternate followed the existing road. The EIS process was long (and at sometimes seemed painful), but the resulting report is very comprehensive and reflects the hundreds of hours of input of all the stakeholders. To throw that away would be horribly wasteful.
-When asked what the cost for a design contract would be, Commissioner Ferebee stated about “half a million” dollars. I’ve been told that the request that was made by the Highway Superintendent was for $150,000.
-The Commissioner said that they want to repurpose the money (he mentioned Sheridan Lake Road). When he was reminded that this project was already funded, he spun a story about how if they move the money it will not have the federal oversight that S. Rochford Road would. The agency that would have oversight on S. Rochford Road is South Dakota Department of Transportation and every request to the federal agency (such as narrowing the road and using different materials) has been approved. A representative of Sen. Thune’s has told us that the rural road program that granted the money 12 years ago is no longer available and it would be impossible for S. Rochford Road to pursue that again, while a project like Sheridan Lake Road would still be eligible for other federal programs.
-The interviewer asked Mr. Ferebee point blank if he was in favor of paving S. Rochford Road. The Commissioner said yes but he wanted to do it more “leisurely” (as if 12 years wasn’t leisurely enough). Keep in mind, if the project goes through the repurposing process, the county will be throwing away the $1.2 million of the federal funds already spent on S. Rochford Road (plus the approximately $300,000 spent by the county). And, frankly, we are asking if they can’t keep the promise made 12 years ago, why should we believe them now?
-Commissioner Ferebee stated that the people out here already “bitch” about their property taxes. No one likes higher taxes, but they like it even less if they see none of the benefits.
This project is not only good for the residents of South Rochford Rd, Rochford, and Hill City, but for the entire area. In the Central Hills area (the area bordered by 85 to the north and west, 385 to the east and 16 to the south-approximately 750 square miles), there are exactly 3 paved roads shown-the roads from Lead to Rochford, Deerfield Road to Hill City and the road to Silver City. This 11 mile project would link two of these and would provide a safer, all-weather road so that inhabitants of the Rochford area can safely travel to Hill City, which is where our children attend school and where we vote. It would open a corridor that could be enjoyed by many traveling to the Deerfield Recreation Area and beyond without worrying about damage to their vehicles. If someone wants to go on a gravel road, there are still many peaceful and beautiful options that they can use. As to the argument that paving the road would destroy its beauty, just look at the magnificent paved byways through Spearfish Canyon, Boulder Canyon, Vanocker Canyon, Custer State Park and many others. Frankly, we would rather appreciate the beauty of South Rochford Road without the constant cloud of dust while dodging the road hazards.
The reasons that the road was awarded the funding 12 years ago are still valid. Keep the promise and pave the road.
Sue Schwaneke, Rochford resident and S. Rochford Road Public Steering Committee member