Bridal Veil Falls and Spearfish Creek look mighty impressive, but the past few days' rains have wrought a little havoc here in the Northern Black Hills:

  • Spearfish Creek peaked at a flow of 690 cubic feet per second yesterday around noon. Average flow: 70 cubic feet per second.
  • The rain has closed the Deadwood Public Library, reducing things to do in Deadwood other than gambling by 33%. A temporary spray-on seal applied last October in anticipation of this summer's roof redo was no match for Friday's hail:

Public Works Director jR [sic] Raysor said that the membrane evidently worked up until Saturday.

“It was dry ever since we applied it in October,” Raysor said. “There were no problems until the hail storm Friday night. Then all hell broke loose and it’s coming in from everywhere. I think it’s possible that the hail penetrated the seal” [Jaci Conrad Pearson, "Deadwood Library Closed Indefinitely," Black Hills Pioneer, 2013.05.22].

  • The Sanford Homestake Lab has suspended operations after an inspection discovered some underground pumps aren't keeping up with the 8.75 inches of rain seeping down into the rock around the mine. Lab director Michael Headley says the big experiments at the 4,850-foot level face no flood danger, but he's keeping people upstairs until tomorrow morning "to give our water control systems a chance to catch up."
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One place where South Dakota keeps beating Minnesota is the Homestake Sanford Lab. In 2007, the National Science Foundation picked the old gold mine at Lead over the Soudan Mine in northern Minnesota for the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory. We won then on depth (Soudan goes down 2,341 feet; Homestake, 4,850 and 7,400, which means a lot less interference from cosmic radiation) and local support (i.e., Denny Sanford and state cash). NSF scaled DUSEL down in 2011, but now another NSF-funded project, the Dual Ion Accelerator for Nuclear Astrophysics, may come keep the Homestake Lab in business for decades:

A $30 million to $50 million experiment that scientists plan to operate for several decades has selected the Sanford Lab as its site.

The DIANA (Dual Ion Accelerator for Nuclear Astrophysics) experiment seeks to simulate nuclear reactions that take place within stars, in order to understand how these reactions produce all of the natural elements observed in our universe.

For months, DIANA scientists have been examining potential underground sites at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, the Soudan Mine in Minnesota and at the Kimballton Mine in Virginia. DIANA spokesman Dr. Michael Weischer, from the University of Notre Dame, said the selection was based on a number of criteria, including cost efficiency, local support, accessibility, and other major factors. When making the site selection, he said local support and cost efficiency were the factors that were strongest at the Sanford Lab [Wendy Pitlick, "Sanford Lab Selected!" Black Hills Pioneer, 2013.05.18].

Lab director Michael Headley says construction could begin in 2015. We could start smashing atoms before the end of the decade and keep going for 20 to 30 years.

But pay attention, budget hawks:

However, Headley was also careful to point out that federal funding for final design and construction of the experiment has not yet been approved. Weischer confirmed this, saying his collaboration is anxiously awaiting a federal budget approval, in hopes that they will be allowed to move forward with the research [Pitlick, 2013.05.18].

That sounds like a shout-out to Senator Thune and Representative Noem: Washington does have a spending problem, and that's not spending enough on science and South Dakota. If we want this victory over Minnesota to stick, we need our Congresspeople to fill in the blank on that science budget line.

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South Dakota municipal elections are non-partisan. Candidates for mayor and city council don't run as Democrats or Republicans because the law doesn't allow it and because local issues break down as much more practical than partisan.

Pat Powers mistakes municipal elections for partisan contests and declares the Spearfish, Lead, and Deadwood mayoral races as big wins for Republicans. Um, yeah, Mayors-elect Boke, Apa, and Turbiville are known Republicans. Apa's opponent Les Roselles appears to be a Democrat, but Boke's opponent Jerry Krambeck is a Republican. I don't have a party affiliation on Turbiville's opponent Jim Van Den Eykel.

But if anyone's keeping score, up in Huron, Paul Aylward beat Kerwin Haeder pretty soundly to become Huron's new mayor. Aylward is a union man. Haeder is a Palin-Republican and father of Beadle County Republican Party chair Josh Haeder.

And most sensible Huron voters neither know nor care.

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That final push worked! Dana Boke unseats 13-year incumbent Jerry Krambeck as Spearfish mayor. Here are results from the Black Hills Pioneeer Facebook feed:

City of Spearfish - Mayor
Dana Boke wins with 899 votes [53%]
Jerry Krambeck received 790 votes [47%]

Spearfish City Council
Paul Young wins with 290 votes [55%]
Mitch Moe received 240 votes [45%]

Spearfish School Board
Jeff Sleep wins with 1,043 votes
Dave Bressler wins with 933 votes
Brett Rauterkus received 611 votes

109 votes separating Boke and Krambeck... folks waving Boke signs at three major intersections in Spearfish in the snow all day long could well have made the difference in that tally. Smart campaigning, Dana!

But Mayor Dana Boke—Spearfish will now enjoy three years of bland management-speak at the helm... while new Lead Mayor Jerry Apa drinks Spearfish's milkshake.

Update 21:27 MDT: When I visited the polls at 17:40 MDT, 1,428 city folks had voted. With 1,689 votes in the mayor's race, that's 261 more votes... a large number of which would have been early/absentee ballots. The back of my envelope says total turnout in the mayoral race was around 24%.

p.s.: We play "It's a Wonderful Life" on TV every Christmas. Every Election Day, big or small, we should play the "Democracy in America" episode of Northern Exposure.

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Last week's snowstorm postponed the municipal elections in Spearfish and Lead to tomorrow.

While Spearfish mayor Jerry Krambeck tours Germany and Dana Boke whines vaguely about bringing professional and respectful leadership to Spearfish, Lead mayoral candidates Les Roselles and Jerry Apa slug it out on real issues. The following image of competing campaign materials from Roselles and Apa popped up on the Lead Soapbox page 15 minutes ago:

Competing campaign materials from Lead mayor candidates Les Roselles and Jerry Apa, posted to "Lead Soapbox" Facebook page 2013.04.15

Competing campaign materials from Lead mayor candidates Les Roselles and Jerry Apa, posted to "Lead Soapbox" Facebook page 2013.04.15. Click to embiggen!

Economic development, city budget, Handley Rec Center, a Lead-Deadwood trolley route, downtown beautification... wow! In a two-minute side-by-side read, we hear more specifics than we have gotten in six weeks of Dana Boke's "Specifics-schmecifics; elect me because I manage two banks but am not an oligarch" rhetoric. Roselles and Apa are having the policy debate we should be having in Spearfish. Happy voting, Lead!

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The Black Hills Pioneer seems to run a new photo each week of hysteria in the Lead-Deadwood school district. We see teachers tackling mock gunmen in active shooter training. We see officers with weapons drawn stalking down the school hallways in training exercises.

Our universities, too, are giving in to fear. A friend at South Dakota State University says that professors must now include emergency exit routes on their syllabi and submit to active shooter training. SDSU's emergency management website offers three links on active shooter training, including this Homeland Security advice (be aggressive, but don't make any quick movements when the police arrive).

I'm curious: can our public institutions require employees to engage in violent active shooter training? Can staff conscientiously object to attacking another human being, even for pretend? Suppose I turn Quaker. Does my administration really want to get into a First Amendment fracas by making my employment contingent on my willingess to physically assault someone?

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South Dakota has been on a prison bender during the past couple decades, incarcerating people at a faster rate than surrounding states even though our crime rate is about the same as our neighbors'. Governor Daugaard wants to address that costly problem with a proposal to reform our parole and probation system and reduce recidivism.

South Dakota's goal should not be to put more people in prison. Our goal should be to keep people from going to prison in the first place. Toward that end, Kevin Drum posts a hefty article in Mother Jones that contends one of the biggest contributors to crime (not to mention hyperactivity, attention-deficit problems, IQ decline, and other health problems) is lead contamination. He cites economic and public health research that finds the use of tetraethyl lead as a gasoline additive correlates tightly with crime rates. When leaded gasoline surged, the crime rate surged about 20 years later. When the U.S. got rid of leaded gasoline, the crime rate dropped about 20 years later. The research Drum cites finds the lead–crime link holding at national, state, and even neighborhood levels. The science is pretty clear: even tiny amounts of lead mess up the parts of the brain that make people behave themselves.

Drum notes that even though we've switched to unleaded gasoline, all the lead we coughed from our tailpipes is still around on the ground. We kick it up and breathe it and our kids pick it up and eat it all the time. And there's still lead in the paint of lots of old houses, which gets released when folks renovate or just slide their windows open and shut. So there are still plenty of health gains to be had by cleaning up lead.

Drum estimates that a serious nationwide program to replace old windows and clean up lead in soil would cost $20 billion per year for twenty years. Adding up just the benefits of increased income from higher IQs and savings from a 10% reduction in crime, Drum estimates we'd get an annual return of $210 billion. Spend a buck on lead mitigation, and you get ten and a half bucks back, with nearly three-quarters of the benefit coming from crime reduction.

But the attention and money we could have been spending on lead mitigation has gone toward building prisons:

At the same time that we should reassess the low level of attention we pay to the remaining hazards from lead, we should probably also reassess the high level of attention we're giving to other policies. Chief among these is the prison-building boom that started in the mid-'70s. As crime scholar William Spelman wrote a few years ago, states have "doubled their prison populations, then doubled them again, increasing their costs by more than $20 billion per year"—money that could have been usefully spent on a lot of other things. And while some scholars conclude that the prison boom had an effect on crime, recent research suggests that rising incarceration rates suffer from diminishing returns: Putting more criminals behind bars is useful up to a point, but beyond that we're just locking up more people without having any real impact on crime. What's more, if it's true that lead exposure accounts for a big part of the crime decline that we formerly credited to prison expansion and other policies, those diminishing returns might be even more dramatic than we believe. We probably overshot on prison construction years ago; one doubling might have been enough. Not only should we stop adding prison capacity, but we might be better off returning to the incarceration rates we reached in the mid-'80s [Kevin Drum, "America's Real Criminal Element: Lead," Mother Jones, Jan/Feb 2013].

We still have to have someplace to put the inevitable bad guys. But a comparable investment in cleaning up lead would reduce the amount we have to spend on building prison cells. Governor Daugaard's proposal to reform our parole and probation system may do some good with people already in the system, but some serious, long-term environmental thinking will keep more people out of the criminal justice system.

Related: The South Dakota Department of Health reminds you that eating venison shot with lead bullets may pose a higher risk of lead contamination than eating pheasants shot with lead pellets.

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Governor Dennis Daugaard is building back his spending on state employees faster than he is repairing the fiscal damage he's done to our K-12 system (though his Administration will argue the growth of state government jobs isn't out of line). But not all of the payroll increases the Governor is proposing merely expand the bureaucracy and patronage at his disposal. Of the 107.7 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in the Governor's FY2014 budget proposal, 41 would go toward serious science, which in turn will generate some serious economic development.

Governor Daugaard wants to invest $2 million in 21 new FTEs for the Sanford/Homestake Lab in Lead. That would add to the 122 full-time jobs that make the Homestake lab one of the largest employers in the Northern Hills. Those workers pump $8.5 million in payroll into the economy, plus $14 million in local contract services. It may not be the same proportionate impact that Homestake brought to the Hills when it employed 2000 miners to dig gold, but it beats an empty hole in the ground.

Now we can talk about all the grand-scheme economic development that science generates through new technology. But South Dakota Science and Technology Authority exec Ron Wheeler puts the economic benefits of investing in the Homestake Lab in much more concrete local terms:

To date, the state of South Dakota has appropriated about $42 million for the lab. Of that, $10 million is in the S.D. Treasury, as it is for indemnification purposes. Because of the $30 million in state spending, Wheeler said, the lab has attracted more than $261 million in outside dollars, more than $115 million of which was spent in South Dakota [Wendy Pitlick, "Science Investments Pay off for State," Black Hills Pioneer, 2012.12.15].

Wheeler says investment in the Homestake Lab keeps more economic value in the state than other economic development projects:

Wheeler also explained that investing in the Sanford Lab would bring the exact kinds of returns necessary for economic development.

"For retailers, there you take local money and a lot of it goes out of state for the goods and services that are being sold by retailers," Wheeler said. "That’s why in economic development you don’t call those primary jobs. In our case, we are creating jobs where all of this money is coming from outside of South Dakota, and it goes into salaries and contractors and so forth. That turns in the community six times at least, and some would say seven times" [Pitlick, 2012.12.15].

Investing in the Homestake Lab also brings fewer externalities that the state must bear. The Homestake Lab imposes almost no environmental cost on the surrounding community. Projects like the state-subsidized Bel Brands cheese factory in Brookings depend on the expansion of our dairy herd, which means more smelly, polluting CAFOs across eastern South Dakota. Expanding CAFOs put more small dairies out of business; the Homestake Lab doesn't compete anyone in South Dakota out of a job.

Another 20 FTEs in the Governor's proposed budget would build a new physics Ph.D. program run jointly by the School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City and the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. The Homestake Lab would be integral to that Ph.D. program, providing research, internship, and employment opportunities for students. Homestake would also serve as a big recruiting tool for those programs: very few universities have access to a science facility like Homestake. There are some experiments that just can't be done anywhere but a mile underground. You can't go that deep at Harvard or Berkeley. You want to study neutrinos? You'll come to Mines or USD. That's a recruiting pitch that should grab some top physicists and students (as long as the South Dakota GOP can keep its mouth shut about its disdain for talent and intellect).

If any legislators balk at throwing two million dollars down a hole in the Black Hills, we should remind them of the return on investment those dollars will produce. We should also remind them that, true to the red-state moocher model, we bearing just a small fraction of the cost. While the Governor asks for $2 million more this year, the federal government is spending $15 million per year on Homestake. Expanding FTEs for Homestake and an in-state physics Ph.D. program is a small price to pay for the direct economic benefits that science jobs bring to our state.

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