Pending Highway threatens Mato Paha
Mato Paha in focus ⬿

Pending Highway threatens Mato Paha

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August 2, 2007

Here’s a recent message from Deb McIntyre, the Director of the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center (SDPJC) who’s urging people to send out letters of opposition to a highway by-pass recently proposed by the State SD Department of Transportation. The I-90 Corridor threatens to seriously undermine the sanctity and integrity Mato Paha (Bear Butte).

This Bear Butte International Alliance ALERT contains:
– Description of the Issue –
– Sample Letter
– National Environmental Protection Agency Code

The State of South Dakota Department of Transportation is moving forward with its plans to construct a highway by-pass from Interstate 90 to the intersection of U.S. Highways 79 and 34, just south of Bear Butte and east of Sturgis. Many fear this proposed by-pass project is directly related to recent large-scale commercial development threatening the sanctity and integrity Bear Butte. This by-pass will increase traffic and continue to encourage unregulated urban and large-scale commercial development near Bear Butte. Proper growth management must consider the impacts to Bear Butte, which is why the SD DOT needs to hear from YOU. Please contact your tribal representatives, government agencies and send a letters from yourself and your organization in opposition to this proposed I-90 bypass.

Several other suitable routes are proposed for this particular by-pass. The consideration of those routes would better serve rural and reservation areas east and north of the Sturgis area. Those areas desperately need a route that would cut the typical two and half hour drive to central metropolitan and major emergency services located in Rapid City. Currently, residents in these rural areas must drive to Sturgis in order to connect to Interstate 90. A by-pass further to the east would better serve the rural South Dakota community, rather than a yearly event.

The first proposed by-pass option was through Bureau of Land Management land at the National Cemetery exit, just one exit south of Sturgis. The Bear Butte International Alliance conducted a medicinal plants survey of the area, which revealed an unmarked Ute burial site. Members of the BBIA reported this to the SD DOT and that route was removed as a viable option. Your help is needed, please send your comment letters.


An Environmental Assessment, which is required before construction begins, has not been been issued to the public at this time.

When that happens there will be a 30-day comment period and a public meetng (location TBA—which means the hearing notice will be given only in that community’s newspaper.) Since this by-pass is of a broader concern than one town, i.e. Sturgis, we want as much input as possible and I think the earlier the better. (BBIA has given you all the details, who to write to, and a sample letter below.)

Write a letter! In your letter, ask to be informed about all aspects of the process of this by-pass. They are supposed to then send you “stuff” pertaining to the by-pass process. Keep a copy!

SAMPLE LETTER – feel free to cut, paste and send this letter

July 20, 2007

Ginger Massie
116 East Dakota Avenue
Pierre, SD 57501

Terry Keller, Supervisor
SD Dept of Transportation
Becker-Hansen Building
700 E. Broadway Ave.
Pierre, SD 57501
(605) 773-3721

Dear Ms. Massie and Mr. Keller,

I am writing to oppose the South Dakota Department of Transportation’s plans to construct a highway by-pass from Interstate 90 onto the intersection of US Highways 79 and 34 east of Sturgis. I am requesting that the SDDOT conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before the Environmental Assessment (EA) on this project is released. I believe that an EA document will not support a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) and therefore request that a FONSI not be issued.

When the proposed I-90 by-pass drops traffic from the interstate onto the intersection of US Highways 79 & 34, this will bring increased traffic and unregulated, large-scale development that will destroy the sanctity of the sacred and internationally revered Bear Butte. Like many others, I fear that the increase in commercial development near that intersection is partly in anticipation of this proposed by-pass. Appropriate growth management must respect the sanctity of the landscapes of Bear Butte. Tribal, Federal and International agencies also agree that the increasing development around Bear Butte threatens its status/capability as a National Landmark. Bear Butte is a sacred site and archeological and geological treasure, akin to Stonehenge, Machu Pichu, Mt. Sinai, the Caves of Bethlehem, and the Valley of the Kings on the banks of the Nile River. These areas of special significance require protection and appropriate development that respects its cultural integrity, historical heritage, and national and international status as a sacred place.

Several other suitable routes for this I-90 by-pass have been proposed by the SD Dept. of Transportation. These routes lie further to the east and would serve rural South Dakota areas that desperately need this access throughout the year. The SD DOT’s Statewide Intermodal Long Rang Plan (SILRP) guides the development of the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), which lists all the major projects the Department will undertake. A key component is the involvement of the public, stakeholders, elected officials, and government officials. Based on this involvement the SD DOT identifies trends, needs and critical issues, reviews comments, makes adjustments and approves the SILRP. When is the next public comment period on this proposed project?

The National Environmental Protection Agency’s definitions of Significance in 40 CFR 1508.27 has relevant clauses, requiring considerations of both context and intensity, including Sections 3, 4, 7, and 8. Of special interest is Section 8, which states: (8) The degree to which the action may adversely affect districts, sites highways structures or objects listed in or eligible for listing in the National register of Historic Places or may cause loss or destruction of significant scientific, cultural or historic resources.

To these ends, I respectfully request further consideration of the proposed I-90 by-pass project, it’s potential impacts on Bear Butte, and suitability to better serve rural South Dakotans further east of the proposed route at the intersections of US Highways 79 and 34. Thank you for your consideration.


[Your Name]

National Environmental Protection Agency Code

[Below find the CEQ Rules that explain when an EIS should be done. These are referenced above}

1508.27 Significantly.
Significantly as used in NEPA requires considerations of both context and intensity:

(a) Context. This means that the significance of an action must be analyzed in several contexts such as society as a whole (human, national), the affected region, the affected interests, and the locality. Significance varies with the setting of the proposed action. For instance, in the case of a site-specific action, significance would usually depend upon the effects in the locale rather than in the world as a whole. Both the short- and long-term effects are relevant.

(b) Intensity. This refers to the severity of impact. Responsible officials must bear in mind that more than one agency may make decisions about partial aspects of a major action. The following should be considered in evaluating intensity:

(1) Impacts that may be both beneficial and adverse. A significant effect may exist even if the Federal agency believes that on balance the effect will be beneficial.
(2) The degree to which the proposed action affects public health or safety.
(3) Unique characteristics of the geographic area such as proximity to historic or cultural resources, park lands, prime farmlands, wetlands, wild and scenic rivers or ecologically critical areas.
(4) The degree to which the effects on the quality of the human environment are likely to be highly controversial.
(5) The degree to which the possible effects on the human environment are highly uncertain or involve unique or unknown risks.
(6) The degree to which the action may establish a precedent for future actions
(7) Whether the action is related to other actions with individually insignificant but cumulatively significant impacts. Significance exists if it is reasonable to anticipate a cumulatively significant impact on the environment. Significance cannot be avoided by terming an action temporary or by breaking it down into small component parts.
(8) The degree to which the action may adversely affect districts, sites highways structures or objects listed in or eligible for listing in the National register of Historic Places or may cause loss or destruction of significant scientific, cultural or historic resources.
(9) The degree to w which the action may adversely affect an endangered or threatened species or its habitat that has been determined to be critical under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
(10) Whether the action threatens a violation of Federal, State or local law or requirements imposed for the protection of the environment.(40 CFR Chapt V. 1508.27)

Deb McIntyre, Director
South Dakota Peace & Justice Center
PO Box 116
Sioux Falls, SD 57101

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