Area residents overwhelmingly spoke against the proposed closure of a Hot Springs veterans hospital during a meeting hosted by an environmental planning service company on Thursday.
Representatives of Labat Environmental of Bellevue, Neb., a company hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs, told an audience of nearly 20 people about the ongoing environmental impact study being performed in connection to the century-old Battle Mountain Sanitarium.
The company has conducted public meetings, receiving input on several proposed plans which could see the closure of the Hot Spring facility and the opening of an outpatient clinic in Rapid City.
Ted Spencer, the director of Historic Preservation for South Dakota, said if the VA closed the hospital, the building would fall into disrepair.
Spencer said the hospital is one of three historic landmarks in South Dakota that are non-archeological.
“Hot Springs has a history as the first veterans’ facility for treating our Civil War veterans in the late 1800s because of the healing springs,” Spencer said.
Cheryl Sorenson said the Hot Springs facility is a unique healing center.
“If only the president would come out and visit the facility in Hot Springs,” Sorenson said, “He would see the healing properties - the diamond that we have for our veterans that we do not intend to lose.”
Tim Jurgens, the newly elected state commander of the American Legion in South Dakota, said the American Legion does not support the hospital’s closure.
Jurgens said he traveled to Washington, D.C., in March and met with South Dakota’s congressional delegation to request a congressional hearing regarding the proposed plan. Jurgens presented a letter sent from Rep. Kristi Noem to House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller on Tuesday requesting a field hearing.
The meeting concluded after hearing from other residents. Additional public meetings will be held in the fall before a draft environmental impact study is made.