Lincoln County residents seeking answers on proposed prison site

Published: Oct. 12, 2023 at 8:48 PM CDT
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LINCOLN COUNTY, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - On October 6th, the South Dakota Department of Corrections agreed to purchase 320 acres of land in rural Lincoln County for a new men’s prison. The land is located on the western side of the corner of 477th and 278th Street. Some residents of Lincoln County are raising concerns about the proposed site as there are plenty of questions yet to be answered by the state. At Tuesday’s County Commission meeting, residents were able to speak out about their concerns to local leaders, but ultimately, the state made the decision with the land it was already in possession of.

Shelly Walters is a resident who lives just one mile away from the proposed site. Many residents in the area do not want the prison near their homes. Walters agrees, but she also doesn’t want to move if plans go forward. She grew up on the property and was hoping to pass it on to her son.

“I wanted to keep it in the family, but now we don’t know,” said Walters. “Might have to sell it just to stay away from the prison. Start a new place.”

Walters says that residents in the area were blindsided by the news, leaving them asking why the site was picked and why the state didn’t reach out to talk to nearby residents.

“We didn’t even know anything about it,” Walters explained. “It all sort of just came up out of nowhere for all of us residents. It’s been a shock. I knew it was state land for a long time, but I never knew it was ever going to be a prison. That’s the weird part.”

County Commissioner Michael Poppens has tried to answer what he can, but again, the decision to use the site was ultimately the state’s to make and it caught Poppens by surprise, too.

“The only thing we heard was through state legislators initially talking about the fact that they were looking at Lincoln County, Minnehaha County,” Poppens recalled. “The impression was they were looking for areas along Interstate 29. It is a surprise that they would pick a site that doesn’t meet some of the criteria that they initially had indicated that they were looking for.”

Poppens wished he knew more in order to tell his constituents.

“There’s a lot of things that we just don’t know,” said Poppens. “The state may have a great idea. We [Commissioners] just like the residents are anxious to see what the state is actually planning on doing because it’s very clear that they’ve been working on this for longer than just this week in which we’ve been notified of this to a point where they already have engineers and contractors involved on this. I hope they have some information that they can share with everyone.”

The county commissioners are limited in what they can do to address their constituents’ concerns.

“We have absolutely no say in any of this,” Poppens described. “Our role is to, if they did pick a site in Lincoln County, is to try to adjust the area that’s going to be around it.”

The site still has plenty of infrastructure needs and the state has yet to share plans with the county commission. Residents are concerned with more traffic being brought out to the rural area as well as property values going down and most importantly, the safety of the residents.

“What safety measures will be on that site to protect the people that are around there?” asked Poppens. “There are young families there. Although it’s scattered, residential areas do exist there and they need to be made completely safe.”

Poppens doesn’t want to make accusations but is aware of the uphill climb for the state to gain the trust of Lincoln County residents.

“I heard a lot of these same issues and I’m not going to say the state’s actually wrong on it,” said Poppens. “They just have to do what they can now to make sure that they do everything possible to minimize the impacts, especially the negative impacts into that area.”

“Try to listen to everybody because that’s where they live,” Walters said. “We should be able to say what we like. Listen to your people instead of being bullies.”

Residents are planning on attending the next commissioners meeting on Monday to make their voices heard.