HB 1185 Helps Chamberlain Campground Improve; Amendment Makes 50-Year Leases of City Parks Easier to Get

House Bill 1185 was originally designed to deal with one unique problem in one place. As prime sponsor Representative Lee Qualm explained to House Local Government yesterday (hear audio timestamp 31:35) Prior to 2000, the Army Corps of Engineers controlled the land on both sides of the Missouri River. Then Senator Tom Daschle passed legislation to transfer that land to the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department. GF&P has leased some of that land to the city of Chamberlain, which in turn has leased that land to the American Creek Campground. Apparently existing statute does not allow the manager of American Creek Campground to make any improvements to his facility to compete with competing campgrounds around Chamberlain. Apparently HB 1185 will allow American Creek Campground to improve and expand.

Nobody except for Rep. Tona Rozum has voted against HB 1185 in its travels through House Local Government, the full House, and yesterday in Senate Local Government.

But yesterday, an amendment cropped up in committee. Jumping ahead a few pages in the law books, Senator Bob Ewing moved to add a new section—completely unrelated to the Chamberlain situation, said Rep. Qualm—changing the statute on municipal park board powers over parks and boulevards. Right now, park boards can give leases to concessionaires of up to fifteen years if the concessionaire makes a realty improvement investment of at least fifty thousand dollars and up to fifty years if the concession makes realty improvements of at least one hundred thousand dollars.

Those investment thresholds haven’t been changed for over twenty years, so you’d think an amendment would say to concessionaires, “Hey, prices have gone up. If you want to earn a fifty-year (!!!) lease, you have to sink more money into the park than we required in the 1990s.” Looking at CPI, I’d suggest that a $100K requirement from, say, 1993 equals at least $168K in today’s dollars.

But HB 1185 now goes the opposite direction. It strikes the fifteen-year cap and makes $50K the investment threshold for a fifty-year lease.

Now I haven’t priced bumper cars or mini-golf or other attractions like we see at Thunder Road, Senator Al Novstrup’s concession in Aberdeen’s Wylie Park. But fifty years seems like an awfully long time to give a private company exclusive rights to profit off operations on public land. At the very least, we should be making it harder, not easier, for private parties to obtain such extravagant monopoly over public property. The original intent of HB 1185, to let American Creek Campground improve its facility on the north side of Chamberlain, seems reasonable, but yesterday’s amendment extending the tie for exclusive leases on public property seems unnecessary.

Senate Local Government asked no questions and offered no discussion of the unexpected amendment. The full Senate should ask some questions, and absent answers, should strike that amendment and pass HB 1185 in the form the House approved.