Governor signs bill into law on use of lakes on private land

June 13, 2017 GMT

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Monday signed into law a bill that creates rules governing the use of lakes on private land for recreation, immediately re-opening many waters to outdoor enthusiasts and capping an hours-long special legislative session he called to address the issue.

The Legislature’s votes exceeded the two-thirds threshold required in each chamber to pass the bill after the House and Senate came to an agreement over a provision that had divided the chambers, and the law went into effect with Daugaard’s signature.

The Republican governor had urged state lawmakers to support the measure, and that evening fulfilled his pledge to sign the bill the same day if it passed.

“It took much work, and a great deal of compromise, but this is a good policy,” Daugaard said during a morning address to the Legislature.

Nonmeandered waters are bodies of water that weren’t specially designated during government surveys in the late 1800s. Some private property has since flooded, forming new, unofficial bodies of water and creating good fishing, but it’s come at the cost of farmland and pastures lost by agriculture producers.

The issue has long vexed landowners and outdoor enthusiasts. State officials intervened after a March South Dakota Supreme Court ruling that said the Legislature must decide the extent the public can use so-called nonmeandered waters on private land for recreation.

Since the decision, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks has limited access to infrastructure on more than 20 lakes in the state. Lawmakers convened a study committee that endorsed the legislation.

The law restores access to nearly 30 lakes for public recreation hampered after the high court ruling. It also specifies that other lakes on private property are open for recreational use unless a landowner installs signs or buoys saying an area is closed, though property owners could still grant permission to use the water. The measure would bar them from being paid for allowing fishing. It sunsets in June 2018.

Daugaard called the lakes an “economic engine,” saying their closure has hurt small-town businesses. There are thousands of nonmeandered lakes in South Dakota, but only roughly 90 have had fishing, according to Game, Fish and Parks.

“Fishing is great in South Dakota, and the fish are hungry for bait because they’ve been starving for a little while,” Daugaard said as a message to out-of-state recreationalists after signing the bill. “They should be biting and biting and biting some more, so come on and put those hooks in the water.”

At least one outdoor sporting and conservation organization had worked against its passage. Democratic Sen. Craig Kennedy, who opposed the bill, said that lawmakers were dealing with a public asset entrusted to their care, and said that the bill gave away control of it.

The gathering was South Dakota’s 26th special legislative session. The most recent was in 2011 for legislative redistricting.