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Road repairs outpace last year as season ends
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The City of Pierre is wrapping up its road work season with more resurfaced roads than last year as Street Department crews switch gears for winter.

During the 2021 season, the department’s 11 full-time equivalent positions and three seasonal employees resurfaced about 140 blocks — about 9 of the roughly 80 miles of public roads the city maintains. Construction and Operations Manager Jeff Runyan said the department completed about 130 blocks in 2020.

In 2021, the city budgeted $6.6 million for street maintenance and improvement projects. The funds cover chip sealing, materials, salaries, equipment, machinery, asphalt work and contractor projects.

The 140 chip-sealed blocks are now getting a final fog sealing layer to lock out moisture. While the department’s crews wrap up the final process, major street projects — portions of Highland Avenue and Airport Road — remain in progress for complete rebuilds. The city expects the projects completed during the fall.

Runyan said the department handles crack, chip and fog sealing, pothole repairs and fixing damaged roads through dig-outs due to larger potholes and deformations.

“Through another contract, we do a mill and overlay — where they mill off the surface of the street and overlay that with a hot-mix asphalt,” he said. “We do curb and gutter contracts.”

The city’s communications director Brooke Bohnenkamp said there’s a mix between what the street team can do and what the city sends to contractors.

“A good example is Highland Avenue,” she said. “That work has been contracted out. So we coordinate with them, obviously, and our utilities department works with the contractor, but our street team isn’t there doing that work.”

The Highland Avenue project is a complete rebuild from the base through the surface and curbs and gutters on parts of the street. Contractors are also replacing the 70-year-old water main under the road.

“So along with that, it’s a separate department, but it’s a function of the city, we also replaced, I think this year, we replace 10 blocks of water main that the city performs,” Runyan said. “It’s, like Brooke alluded to earlier, kind of a balancing act. If we have 10 blocks of water main that has to be replaced, that means we also have, you know, 10-ish blocks of asphalt surfacing that will have to be replaced as well.”

But Runyan said the city tries not to tear up good streets by planning water main replacements in conjunction with roads needing replacement as well.

The city also needs to consider different factors when planning out its road repairs and what it can finish during the five-month season.

“That includes weather constraints, cost of materials, staffing levels — all of those factor into kind of what our goals will be for the chip seal program,” Bohnenkamp said.

And weather constraints play a significant role in the city’s planning.

Runyan said mid-May to Oct. 15 marks the best time for completing road projects.

“The DOT — the Department of Transportation — references a specifications handbook, and I believe on asphalt, it has to be 40 degrees and rising in order to place hot-mix asphalt,” he said. “And the other consideration on that is you cannot place hot-mix asphalt on subgrade that is frozen. So in a roundabout way, as soon as it starts getting cold — freezing — our season’s pretty much done.”

Runyan added the projects also have an oil component and manufacturers stop producing it after cold temperatures arrive. He said the city couldn’t restart its projects until temperatures increase again in the spring and manufacturers continue their production.

Although the department’s repair season is ending, it doesn’t mean work comes to a halt. The Street Department’s maintenance of public roads includes snow plowing, street sweeping and salt and sanding roads.

Runyan said the city’s crews would also continue emergency repairs such as potholes.

“We have the ability to get what’s called a cold-patch mix,” he said. “We buy that knowing that we may have issues in the wintertime that show up here and there.”

Runyan found the cold patch isn’t equal to hot-mix asphalt, but he said it’s a means to get through the cold season.

While weather plays a big role in planning the repair season, the department also factors in labor. And like many other places in the Pierre area, filling seasonal positions can pose challenges.

“And that’s really a factor too that we have to consider when we’re looking at projects or the work that we kind of have is how many seasonals we’re able to catch over the year,” Bohnenkamp said. “You know, workforce is a challenge for everyone right now.”

Runyan found the work also makes it tougher to find the needed seasonal employees.

“The golf course has a much better time of hiring, you know, people to do lawn maintenance than the Street Department has to hire people to do chip seal work.”

But overall, Bohnenkamp said this year’s road repair season went well for the department and the city.

“It’s been a positive year for us,” she said. “I think we’ve gotten a lot of work done — a lot of big projects going on. Although it’s been dry, which isn’t great for every aspect, it’s good for construction. It allows them to pound through some things pretty quickly.”

City passes licensing, zoning ordinances for cannabis-related businesses
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The Pierre City Commission approved a pair of ordinances at Tuesday’s meeting setting up licensing and zoning regulations for cannabis establishments.

The South Dakota Department of Health is quickly approaching its October deadline to promulgate its rules regarding medical marijuana, the legalization of which state voters approved in the November general election. Under the ordinances given consideration by the Pierre City Commission, all four types of cannabis facilities — cultivation, dispensary, manufacturing and testing — can set up shop in the city industrial park, light industrial or heavy industrial districts, while dispensaries and testing facilities can set up in the central and local business districts.

However, no medical marijuana establishments of any kind are permitted within 1,000 feet of a public or private school within Pierre city limits under Ordinance 1836.

Ordinance 1837, as approved Tuesday, sets an application fee for a city cannabis establishment license at $5,000, a price that set off dissenting public comment at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We did look at that, the number, and I think that we kind of looked at how many dispensaries we would have, and we didn’t want to open it up to a lot,” Pierre City Administrator Kristi Honeywell said Tuesday. “We landed on three, so I think that fee is a pretty good number to kind of keep those serious business owners and just so we wanted to be sure that we only had very serious people.”

Under Ordinance 1837, the City of Pierre will reimburse an applicant $2,500 if they fail to obtain the necessary registration certificate from the state Health Department. The ordinance also sets the number of dispensaries that can operate within city limits at three, and the number of cultivation, manufacturing and testing facilities at one each.

To receive a city cannabis establishment license, however, applicants must meet a number of requirements. Namely, the owner, principal officer or board members of an establishment cannot be younger than 21 years old, have been convicted of a violent felony within the previous 10 years or be overdue in payment of taxes, utilities or other fees to the City of Pierre.

Before Tuesday’s vote on Ordinance 1836, Commissioner Jamie Huizenga took the time to thank City Planner Sharon Pruess for her work on the ordinance.

“I truly want to thank you and this group and the city attorney and everybody that’s been part of this since the election approving this cannabis,” Huizenga said. “This really landed on our front step and was a lot to work through in a relatively short period of time. It’s not like we never, well, we’ve worked with alcohol and licensing on various things in the city but this was a little outside of our area of expertise, but a lot of people to a lot of work to get to this point.”

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Pierre clarifies quarantines following questions
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Pierre School District Superintendent Kelly Glodt sent out an email to the district’s parents on Tuesday reminding them of the quarantine procedures set forth by the South Dakota Department of Health.

“As stated in the Pierre School District’s Back to School Plan, though we will not be contact tracing in our schools, we do fully support the recommendations families will receive from the SD DOH regarding quarantine of students,” Glodt wrote. “Below is SD DOH’s current quarantine guidance, including the quarantine exception for fully vaccinated individuals.”

The Health Department’s guidelines state:

Unvaccinated close contacts without symptoms, should quarantine for 10 days after their last exposure, but should mask and continue to monitor for symptoms through the 14th day. Unvaccinated close contacts may be able to shorten their quarantine by testing negative on or after day 5 from the date of their last exposure, provided they remain without symptoms. If the unvaccinated close contact tests negative on or after day 5, they may resume normal activities on day 8, including returning to school, but should mask and monitor for symptoms through the 14th day.

Fully vaccinated close contacts without symptoms do not need to quarantine, but should get tested 3-5 days after last exposure and wear a mask in indoor public settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.

Close contacts who have had a positive antibody test within the 90 days prior to exposure or immediately after and remain without symptoms, do not need to quarantine, but should mask and monitor for symptoms for 14 days.

Close contacts who have had COVID-19 illness within the 90 days prior to exposure, have recovered, and remain without symptoms, do not need to quarantine, but should mask and monitor for symptoms for 14 days.

The Health Department definition of “close contact” includes “anyone who has been within 6 feet or less for 15 cumulative minutes or more (in a 24-hour period) of an infected person starting from the 48 hours before the person began feeling sick until the time the person was isolated.”

Michael Woodel / Michael Woodel / Capital Journal 

Pierre School District Business Manager Darla Mayer talks with Receptionist Nicki Axtell on Wednesday morning.

Pierre School District Business Manager Darla Mayer spoke to the Capital Journal about the questions the district received and how they believe their back-to-school plan has worked thus far.

“I know that at each of our schools, our nurses have had questions about quarantine, current quarantine recommendations by the CDC and the Department of Health and then what that means for their students, if they happen to be in close contact to someone who’s COVID positive,” Mayer said. “So we wanted to make sure that parents had the information in their hands and so our back-to-school plan had indicated that we would support the Department of Health’s quarantine criteria regarding students.”

Mayer said there hasn’t been much concern over COVID-19 case numbers in the district’s first two weeks of classes.

“We’re just always being vigilant and being prepared should cases increase,” Mayer said. “So far, the cases that were reported on Monday, there really hasn’t been much of a chance in that as of (Wednesday).”

There were six active COVID-19 cases identified in the Pierre School District as of Monday, five of them involving staff.

Four students and two staff recovered from COVID-19 as of Monday. Case numbers for the Pierre School District are updated every Monday.

South Dakota had 5,370 active COVID-19 cases, including 61 in Hughes County, as of Wednesday. There were 229 hospitalized cases statewide.

Vaccine recommended

State Epidemiologist Dr. Joshua Clayton told the Capital Journal on Wednesday that vaccination and testing are both crucial parts of the Health Department’s response to the Delta variant’s rise in South Dakota.

“We have seen the effectiveness of the vaccine decrease a little bit with the Delta variant arriving and being the dominant virus in the state,” Clayton said. “While that has been a concern nationwide for individuals developing COVID-19 infection, the vaccine continues to protect people against the most severe aspects of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death. And so we highly recommend individuals 12 years of age or older get vaccinated.”

Clayton said that there is always risk when bringing people together in groups, when asked about the role the beginning of the 2021-22 school year plays in COVID-19 case numbers statewide.

“I think that when we’re moving to bring people together, whether it’s in organized fashion such as K-12 schools, or just other events, that does pose a risk for COVID-19 transmission,” Clayton said. “I would say that the schools, specifically our K-12 schools and our colleges and universities in the state, are doing what they can to protect the student population as well as making sure that their teaching staff are best prepared going into the new year.”