Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Dec. 21

West River needs a mental health facility

Al Scovel is on a mission to address a clear need in western South Dakota that has lingered for decades — the lack of a mental health center.

The Rapid City attorney and former state lawmaker wants the Legislature or Gov. Daugaard to dedicate funds to build one "out there," which is how state government officials sometimes characterize this part of the state, according to Scovel.

Now, as he emphasized in a recent meeting with the Journal editorial board, those who have serious mental health problems must travel to the state mental health hospital in Yankton, which is 365 miles from Rapid City. It is a facility, he said, that is woefully understaffed and lacks resources.

The state has a history of giving "lip service" to mental health needs, said Scovel, whose record of public service includes working for Bill Janklow when he was a governor known for getting things done.

"What kind of people are we?" he asked. "How long are we going to allow this?"

Scovel is not a lone voice on this issue. Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom raised similar concerns in February when Regional Health announced it was curtailing its services for the mentally ill.

At the time, the region's primary health-care provider said it would "no longer admit behavioral health patients who do not have acute medical needs to the main hospital when the Behavioral Health facility is at capacity."

Instead, the hospital said, it would turn them over to law enforcement officials who would then have to decide whether to put them in jail or turn them loose while in crisis, which led to the creation of the West River Behavioral Health Alliance.

"This is fundamentally flawed because we're using a criminal justice response for what should be a medical situation," Jegeris said at the time.

Thom added: "We need a West River solution. . No singular entity can solve this. It's bigger than any one of us."

It is a proposition that Scovel endorses, but he is not waiting for a local official to lead the charge. He has taken it upon himself to find needed support to convince lawmakers and state officials that western South Dakota needs a state-supported mental health center for what he calls "a crisis — it is very, very real."

He has made presentations and sought the support of the Rapid City Council and Pennington County Commission, which unanimously approved a resolution supporting additional mental health services in this area. He now recruits West River lawmakers on the eve of the legislative session.

Scovel is correct. It is a shame the West River lacks a mental health facility. The public and elected officials should heed his message and demand that one be built "out here."

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The Public Opinion, Watertown, Dec. 19

Fliers deserve a million thanks

former Watertown woman drew the lucky boarding pass Sunday at Watertown Regional Airport and was honored as the 10,000th passenger to fly out of the city during 2017. It's a major achievement for Watertown Regional Airport because it means a $1 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration for airport improvements.

The passenger, Christine Stone of Colorado Springs, was the center of attention Sunday before her flight left. She found herself surrounded by city officials, airline personnel and media members. There was cake and champagne for everyone.

And there were plenty of congratulatory remarks tossed around: to the city council for pushing the year-end promotion to boost passenger numbers, to Glacial Lakes Energy and the Chamber of Commerce for jumping on board, to airport officials and ADI for providing such improved service.

But you know who deserves most of the credit for Watertown's commercial airline resurrection?

It's the passengers. All 10,000 of them (and counting.)

There was a lot of talk Sunday about how vital reliable air service is to the local business community. We don't disagree. But without the local travelers choosing to fly out of Watertown, there would have been no celebration on Sunday.

Mickey Bowman, chief operating officer of ADI, Inc., told the Public Opinion he didn't expect Watertown's numbers to reach these levels so quickly. A long stretch of unreliable service, followed by a long stretch of no service, had conditioned people to fly out of Sioux Falls, Fargo, Minneapolis or some other larger airport. Once people get used to doing something a certain way, it is difficult to get them to change, Bowman said.

He thought it would take another year before the city reached the coveted 10,000 passenger mark.

But Watertown residents didn't wait. ADI's numbers were good from the very beginning and kept getting better. Of course, the company's reliable service was a big factor, but so was the willingness of the people of Watertown to give the new airline a chance.

That willingness has the future of Watertown Regional Airport looking pretty good. High on the city's "wish list" for the airport is a new terminal building, one which would create a strong, positive impression of the city for travelers landing here and make flying out of Watertown even more enjoyable.

We see no reason why commercial air service can't continue to improve and become even more popular here in Watertown. The city's Essential Air Service contract is up for bids again in the near future, and given the success ADI has had, it's a good bet more airlines will be lining up to serve Watertown Regional Airport. And the more companies bidding, the better the deal for Watertown and for the traveling public.

We all know Watertown is a great place to live, work and play. It's good to know it has also become a good place to fly into and out of.

Congratulations to everybody involved.

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The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Dec. 18

Hisses and cheers

CHEERS to Dick and Darlene Muth and Muth Electric for its significantly generous donation of $1.1 million to Mitchell Technical Institute last week.

When Dick Muth stood at the podium during Thursday night's announcement, it was evident MTI has played an enormous role in his life.

Mitchell Tech is getting some outstanding upgrades and endowment opportunities due to what's now the largest single donation to in the school's history.

This is quite the gift and a great, great way to give back.

CHEERS to the local chapter of Pheasants Forever, Pheasant Country, for its plan to put forth $150,000 to go toward more public hunting areas near Mitchell.

Last week, Pheasant Country made its announcement in hopes landowners would voluntarily enroll their acres into conservation and become state Walk-In Area. The initiative hopes to be a kickstart for local businesses to add to the fund. That way, with more public hunting available, more non-resident hunters will have more opportunity and bring their business to the region.

We love this work considering there is not any acreage enrolled in the Walk-In Area program in Davison County. But, we also recognize it needs to be the right fit.

We hope renters are not pulling acreage from farmers who crop the land to now put them in a tough spot. While it's great to have additional public hunting in the area, it's important to remember landowner relationships as well.

Speaking of pheasants, HISSES to the shocking figures that show thousands of non-resident pheasant hunters did not trek to South Dakota this year.

During the state Game, Fish & Parks Department meeting last week, officials said sales for small game licenses are down 18 percent compared to last year. As of Dec. 11, there were 67,651 licenses sold. That will impact the division's budget substantially, down about $1.7 million compared to a year ago. We recognize pheasant numbers and the annual brood count report play a significant role in how many people visit our state, but we never thought it would be this brutal.

Here's to hoping bird numbers rebound ASAP.