The state has awarded the city of Flandreau $301,320 to remove the Crescent Street bridge that crosses the Big Sioux River and has been closed for years.
The city received the grant Thursday after a state hearing. Approval was unanimous, said Jeff Pederson, Flandreau city administrator.
“I’m just pleased we were able to put together a competitive application and represent the will of the city council,” he said.
The bridge’s future at first caused a division between those in favor of demolishing it and installing a pedestrian bridge and others who wanted to fix the original bridge, built in 1935. The cost to fix the bridge was estimated at $2.5 million, compared to about $3.2 million to replace the structure with another vehicle bridge. City leaders said because fixing the bridge was so close in cost to replacing it, the state would never award a grant to fix it.
The failed bridge also represented a divide between cultures in the community because it connected the town with the Flandreau Indian School, which no longer has direct access downtown. Before it became in disrepair, it was used extensively by employees and students at the school, linking them to the rest of the community.
At the city council meeting earlier last week, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and the city shared a legal agreement, called a memorandum of understanding, in which once the bridge is removed, the project will be turned over to the tribe. Tribal members say they can apply for other money that could allow them to build a new bridge, money that would be unavailable to the city.
The tribe prefers a vehicle bridge instead of the city’s first idea for a pedestrian bridge because the tribe is in charge of health care for the students while they are at the school. The bridge is the closest link to the tribal clinic.
“It’s important for the tribe and tribal council that a bridge remain there,” said Seth Pearman, tribal attorney. “I do think it’s a better investment to tear this bridge down and completely construct a new bridge.”
If the tribe is unable to secure funding within five years to build the bridge, it reverts back to the city, according to the draft of the legal document.
The bridge is one of seven in South Dakota to get a demolition grant through the state, which requires matching funds of about $60,000 from the city, roughly 18 percent of the cost. The Crescent Street bridge also is the largest and most expensive to remove among those who received the federal money that is passed through the state for the projects. The state Department of Transportation will coordinate the bids and plans.
The state’s intent is to have the project under contract for removal within the next year.
While several comments from the public favored the agreement between the city and the tribe, resident Emily Firman Pieper, who has opposed demolishing the bridge, said the plan has no guarantee that it will work, and the community could be left with a big hole if funding isn’t found. She also testified against the grant during the state hearing.
Adrienne Brant James, who is helping Pieper raise money for the bridge and the waterfront along the river, said the agreement between the city and tribe is the best opportunity because it will allow the community to access money that is not government controlled.
“There’s a lot more opportunity for funds here beyond what the tribe can do,” she said. “I don’t see a lot of potential pitfalls here. The money has to be raised, that’s it.”
The two groups working together bring energy to the project, and it is symbolic, she said. “It will do a world of good for this community.”
Tribal employee Elizabeth Wakeman said that while it will be a difficult project, she is confident it will get done.
“I am very thankful that the city and the tribe are working on this,” she said.
Alderman Jason Unger said the first idea for a pedestrian bridge was good but not the best idea. Instead, the tribe has quickly come up with a very viable option, even though there is some risk, he said. It will require mutual support from both governments.
“It was a really ambitious plan that has a really good shot at success,” Unger said.
“I don’t know a time when the city has been requested to support the tribe. We don’t do it very often,” he said. “I’m really encouraged by this.”
Mayor Dan Sutton said he met with tribal President Tony Reider and the two talked about working together on other projects in the future, too. The demolition grant will save both the city and the tribe money, and the issue has gone beyond discussing what to do with the bridge.
“We’re passed that now. We’re working with the tribe. We’re listening to the public,” he said. “Hopefully this is just the beginning of many great partnerships we can have moving forward.”
In other city business,
•Sutton appointed a task force to look for location options for a new fire hall. The group that will research and recommend a new site for the fire hall includes Fire Chief Don Peters, Alderman Mike Fargen, and community members Kevin Christenson, Linnea Janssen and Josh Weston.
The Flandreau Volunteer Fire Department is out of room at its current location and has to store equipment off site. The city hopes that it can get grant money for some of the cost of a new facility. The fire department has said it also would provide some labor for the project.
•The city will get $523,592 in CARES Act money through the state. The money is reimbursement of unbudgeted expenses because of COVID-19.
•Council members approved the closure of Wind Street between Pipestone and Second avenues Aug. 8 for a bean bag tournament sponsored by businesses on the street. The council also waived a $25 fee for outdoor liquor sales by Fat Boys, Fajita’s Bar and Grill and Bar X Bar because the three businesses previously paid for licenses for a street dance that was not able to be held.
The street will be closed starting at 2 p.m. with a 4 p.m. start for the tournament.