Inmate Lookup Free Nationwide Inmate Search Logo


Lincoln County officials seek judicial input on proposed prison site, supporting landowners in lawsuit

28 Dec 2023, Jail News, by

Lincoln County commissioners vote to support landowners in their lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections about the proposed prison site.

Lincoln County officials seek judicial input on proposed prison site, supporting landowners in lawsuit - Inmate Lookup

Lincoln County officials are seeking judicial intervention to determine whether the state possesses the authority to construct a prison within the county without public participation or local assessment.

Following a county commissioners’ vote on Tuesday, a legal argument supporting landowners who have sued the South Dakota Department of Corrections will be submitted. However, the county’s endorsement is more constrained than the broader objective of prison opponents, who seek to compel the state to opt for an alternative location.

Residents in proximity to the proposed prison site, located south of Harrisburg, formed a nonprofit group named “Neighbors Opposed to Prison Expansion” shortly after the state announced the site less than two weeks prior.

The proposed prison, intended for 1,200 male inmates, aims to replace the outdated penitentiary in north-central Sioux Falls.

Landowners argue that they were not consulted, predicting a decline in property values and expressing concerns about inadequate infrastructure to manage what essentially amounts to a hastily erected small town on cropland surrounded by gravel roads.

Central to the county’s concern is the primary claim in the landowner lawsuit: that the state is not exempt from local zoning laws.

Commissioner Michael Poppens emphasized the need for the state to adhere to local zoning requirements.

According to a vote of 3-1, the commissioners gave their state’s attorney permission to submit an amicus brief, often known as a “friend of the court” brief, in order to present the case.


Balancing State-County Collaboration in Land-Use

The brief aims to advocate for a “balance of interests” test, delineating criteria for the state to collaborate with Lincoln County officials in situations where its land-use plans clash with county regulations.

Commission Chair Tiffani Landeen dissented, citing concerns about potential complications in future zoning decisions for the prison. The county’s comprehensive plan envisions the area around the proposed prison site remaining agricultural. If the state loses the lawsuit, it would be required to request a conditional use permit from the county, allowing citizens to provide input on the permitting decision.

Landeen warned that taking the side of landowners at this moment could jeopardize the commissioners’ impartiality in a future vote on a permit.

She expressed the view that they might find themselves in a position where they have to abstain from the decision, emphasizing the need to refrain from acting like judges if the matter returns to them. Landeen also conveyed her dissatisfaction with the state’s actions.

Commissioner Joel Arends countered Landeen’s concerns, distinguishing taking a position on the need for county permission from endorsing or opposing the entire prison project.

Arends clarified that decisions on a conditional use permit would only be made if the state applied for one, emphasizing the commissioners’ duty to remain impartial until then.


Commissioners face criticism

Several commissioners, including Arends and Poppens, attended a public meeting on the prison project last Thursday, where over 200 people attended.

Opponents, including area lawmakers, expressed concerns about potential cost overruns. Some legislators suggested that inflation and other factors might cause the estimated $600 million construction cost to escalate. Rep. Kevin Jensen warned of potential budget shortfalls, particularly for the new women’s prison in Rapid City.

Opponents argue that the prison will impose costs on the county, with Commissioner Arends mentioning potential financial responsibilities for legal representation of inmates charged with crimes inside the proposed prison. During the commissioners’ meeting, opponents pressed for an amicus brief, raising questions about the unknown actual cost and demanding accountability.

Landowner Mike Hoffman pointed to budget adjustments made by commissioners before discussing the prison lawsuit. County department heads sought additional funds for cost overruns. Hoffman emphasized the unknown actual cost, a significant concern for opponents. The lack of answers has fueled opposition, prompting citizens to demand accountability through signs and letters to lawmakers.

DOC Secretary Kelli Wasko canceled a meeting with opponents after the lawsuit was filed.

Commissioner Landeen noted that lawmakers supporting landowners backed the 2023 bill allocating $323 million for the men’s prison. However, Michelle Jensen, a lawsuit-filing landowner, argued that legislators supporting the bill were unaware of the state bypassing local officials and neighbors.

Mary Geraets, residing near the proposed prison site, urged commissioners to support efforts for answers on prison site deliberations. Geraets criticized the state’s lack of transparency, appealing for the commissioners to be the voice of the affected community.


State vs. County Rights

Commissioner Poppens, while attempting to remain neutral on the prison’s construction, emphasized the county’s right to review plans for a project of such magnitude.

In response to the Lincoln County lawsuit, the Department of Corrections contends that state law supersedes local law in cases of conflict. They cite state Supreme Court decisions upholding township-level objections to county-level projects as proof that the state, as a larger government entity, is not subject to local laws.

The landowners seek clarification from the courts on when the state can and cannot claim immunity from local regulations, with a hearing on the state’s motion to dismiss scheduled for January 22 in Canton.

Commissioner Poppens stressed that taking a position now is essential for Lincoln County, as it may not have another opportunity to do so in the future.

Poppens stated that if the county avoided taking a position at this moment, it wouldn’t have another opportunity to establish a stance in the future. She emphasized that they had no alternative but to proceed.



Photo by Mikhail Nilov: