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GFP lawyer Jon Kotilnek warned the golf course request put convenience ahead of protecting an endangered species.

PIERRE – The owner of Wild Oak Golf Club at Mitchell got a mulligan Thursday from the state Water Management Board.

Board members gave Dave Backlund permission to put a temporary barrier across Firesteel Creek during low-flow periods.

The purpose is to pool water that can be diverted to holding ponds. The water then can be used to irrigate parts of the course.

It was a do-over. Four summers ago, Backlund built a structure across Firesteel Creek for the same purpose. He took it down after hearing from state officials.

The losers Thursday were Topeka shiner minnows. In June, state biologists found the federally listed endangered species in the same general stretch of the creek.

State law requires the state Game, Fish and Parks Department try to protect endangered species.

That was one reason GFP opposed the barrier. Another was kayakers and canoeists would need to go ashore and portage around it.

Backlund said he would put up signs for boaters.

Eric Gronlund, a state official for water rights, testified in favor of the barrier. When GFP lawyer Jon Kotilnek asked about Topeka shiners, Gronlund replied he wasn’t a biologist.

Ann Mines Bailey, a lawyer representing the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said she wasn’t aware of a state-written agreement to protect Topeka shiners.

It has been in place for 15 years. One of the signatures came from DENR Secretary Steve Pirner, who still runs the department.

Board members supported the suggestion from Chairman Jim Hutmacher of Oacoma that the state’s chief engineer for water rights, Jeanne Goodman, could order removal of the barrier for any reason.

“I think it gives the department more discretion, so I’m fine with that,” Rodney Freeman, a board member from Huron, said.

Leo Holzbauer, a board member from Wagner, agreed too. “If you can float a boat in there, a Topeka shiner can definitely swim,” Holzbauer said.

Freeman, a lawyer, said GFP didn’t prove its case on the Topeka shiners.

That wasn’t for lack of trying by Leslie Murphy. The environmental review coordinator for GFP passed around a bottle holding one of the Topeka shiners they found.

She said a barrier two to three feet high could seem like “the Hoover Dam” to a minnow.

Unable to migrate, Topeka shiners congregate and other fish eat them, Murphy said.

She didn’t sway board members.

“I’m just not totally convinced there’s a problem yet,” Hutmacher, a well driller, said.

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