PIERRE, SD (KELO) – The South Dakota Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee met Wednesday morning to hold budget hearings with the Office of School and Public Lands (SPL) as well as the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
SPL was represented at the hearing by Commissioner Brock Greenfield, Deputy Justin Nagel and other officials.
SPL officials worked through a presentation outlining revenues generated by the office, an explanation of payments and a breakdown of refunds versus receipts.
On that note, the final slide of the presentation noted that in 2022, SPL returned $20.08 for every dollar of gross funds received.
Although the questions for SPL from the committee varied, two main themes emerged. The first was the issue of clauses controlled by the SPL. Officials discussed the Elk Lake Spillway after the 2021 flood, as well as the damage and subsequent repairs to the Richmond Dam.
While highlighting these clauses, the SPL also noted additional clauses at risk, including the Wagner clause and the Bednar clause, both of which they asked the committee to keep in mind in the event of one-time appropriations.
Sen. Bolin (R-Canton) noted that many of the state’s dams were built in the 1930s and questioned whether any could be removed under SPL management.
Mike Cornelius, land agent for SPL, tried to answer Bolin’s question, noting that in certain cases dams can and do be owned by communities or property owners, who will then be responsible for maintenance, but high-risk dams cannot be owned. be moved.
Next came a discussion of the status of a cryptocurrency mining operation set up in Harding County, where a Bitcoin “mining” company leased natural gas wells formerly operated by Spyglass and used them to power the company’s computers. Produces Bitcoin.
However, problems were noted because the wells’ new operator still owes Harding County back taxes. That fact prompted the Harding County auditor to text a committee member during the hearing to tell him not to allow gas leases to be reassigned until the back taxes are paid.
Another problem with gas wells in Harding County is that some have not been operated for five years, meaning they must be capped by state law. Several wells are still uncapped, and Greenfield was asked who was responsible for capping them.
Greenfield began by stating that the state Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR) was responsible for actually plugging the wells, but also claimed responsibility for the process.
Appropriations co-chair Sen. Jean Hunhoff (R-Yankton) asked staff to ensure that DANR is prepared to answer questions about gas wells at subsequent hearings.
The hearing for the PUC was quick. Chair Kristi Fiegen represented the commission, which is not asking for the funding to be changed. In his presentation, he noted the challenges they face, such as staffing, openings and retention, as well as increasing costs for commission duties and processing applications.
The PUC statement included a section devoted to SD811, which falls under the PUC umbrella but is not governed by the PUC. Jody Gregg, executive director of SD811, spoke for the organization.
The biggest takeaway from the SD811 portion of the hearing is the group’s desire to move from independent contractor status to full-time employees. Such a change would likely result in those workers receiving full government benefits.
Another side effect of such a move could be moving SD811 from the PUC to another department, though it was unclear to Gregg or committee members whether that could be done through budgeting or would require a bill.
The committee adjourned after 11:00 a.m. and is set to reconvene Wednesday afternoon, when budget hearings for the Bureau of Finance and Management, the Governor’s Office and the State Treasurer will be held.