Lawrence County declares emergency disaster in light of storm damage

The banks of Whitewood Creek near Powerhouse Park and the Sherman Street parking lot were hit hard during recent rain events that have severely eroded the shores. Pioneer photo by Jaci Conrad Pearson

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DEADWOOD — Severe damage brought on by a severe summer thunderstorm that occurred Thursday and Friday prompted Lawrence County officials to pass a resolution for declaration of emergency/disaster Tuesday.

Lawrence County Emergency Management Director Paul Thomson emphasized that the declaration is for public infrastructure only and not for private property assistance.

“We have numerous road damage in the county, and Bob Nelson is here for the city of Deadwood. Their damage is mainly in the creek, the retaining walls,” Thomson said. “To qualify, as a threshold for the county, we have to have at least $91,086.66 worth of damage to even think about doing it. From what I’ve seen, we passed that a long time ago. And the state, itself, has to come up with $1.2 million in damage. Well, between Lawrence County, Sturgis, Pennington, that’s going to be a done deal,” Thomson said.

Commissioner Randy Deibert asked if Thomson reached out to the cities of Spearfish and Whitewood.

Thomson said yes, as well as reaching out to Central City. 

Things that do not qualify are roads that have federal funding and Thomson said preliminary figures for the damage from all the cities and county for this one event must be gathered by Friday in order to give the state an idea of how much damage has occurred. 

“They will, then, pass that on to the governor,” Thomson said. “The governor takes your declarations and sends it to the federal government for presidential disaster declaration, and if it is approved, at that time we come back and you get down to the fine tuning of how much actual damage … You have to have engineers’ estimates. You have to go out and measure how much of the road was damaged with loss of gravel, cut through, culverts gone. Actually add it all up. So, for now, they’re calling it a preliminary damage assessment, and that’s the stage we’re in.”

Deibert asked Nelson what the damage was in Deadwood.

“Whitewood Creek is primary. We’re real close to losing part of the Sherman Street parking lot,” Nelson said. “There’s a retaining wall behind 106 Charles that’s a city wall. It’s already dropped about two feet, and it’s starting to come into the creek. Comfort Inn, the whole corner out there. We’re just about to lose somebody’s backyard up above. Just the debris clean-up alone is probably three, four hundred thousand.”

Nelson preliminarily estimated the damage in Deadwood to be substantial.

“We’ll hit a million dollars,” Nelson said.

Highway Superintendent Allan Bonnema said that while he does not have a firm number, he would estimate the damage in the county to be $200,000, perhaps.

County roads took a hit during the storm and county crews are busy assessing damage and doing their best to start cleanup work, as several spots in central Lawrence County were hit hard during last week’s rash of heavy rain storms.

Bonnema was making the rounds Monday morning and said that the Galena and Yellow Creek roads were hit hardest.

“Galena (Road) has a half a dozen spots on that road that are damaged, although, it is open to traffic,” Bonnema said. “And the Yellow Creek Road from Kirk (Road) up to the rubble site is bad, too. It’s open, but we’ve got a lot of shoulder work, a lot of repair to do. It’s narrow, but we’re working on it.”

Yellow Creek Road will receive first priority because it is more heavily traversed.

“We’ll probably spend the rest of this week just working on Yellow Creek. There’s more traffic on Yellow Creek, going up to the rubble site,” Bonnema said. “Galena Road, we’re going to have to haul in many, many truckloads of rock and dirt and get the road shoulder back up, get the road grade back into place. It took out about half of the road on the edge, not the whole road. It’s open, but use caution traveling on it.

Bonnema said cones and barricades are up marking damaged spots.

“We’re probably looking at couple weeks to get all this damage back,” he added. “At least two weeks. It could even be longer.”

Bonnema cited other areas where flood damage occurred, including a small area on Big Lead Road by Fish and Fry that needs work; a little bit of damage on Heaton Road, but nothing major; and minor damage on Two Bit Road.

“Fortunately, I’m glad it didn’t cover a bigger area,” Bonnema said. “It was limited in a small area of the county, and I’m glad the whole county didn’t get pounded like it did up here.”

Renee Larson of Emergency Management said that Whitewood has indicated they received no damage and that she had not yet heard back from the rest of the cities she contacted, including St. Onge and Central City.

“Any organized road districts in Lawrence County with damage should contact the Lawrence County Office of Emergency Management at (605) 578-2122 to start the process for being included in the Preliminary Damage Assessment for the event on July 4 and 5,” Thomson said.

Storms which moved through western South Dakota Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday brought torrential rains to some areas along with hail, strong winds, and even tornado warnings.

The National Weather Service reports that the Northern Black Hills have received 1-4 inches above normal precipitation for the year through June, with July running above normal. 

For the year through June, Lead received 18.59 inches of precipitation. That compares to the normal 17.26 through June. 

Spearfish received 16.32 inches of precipitation through June; the normal is 12.40 inches.

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