The Top 18 in ’18: Part 1

By: 
Jill Meier • Jamie Hult

CBS This Morning came to Brandon to report on the town’s water woes.

Seniors on the Lady Lynx track and field team celebrate the program’s first state championship May 26 in Rapid City.

Players from Brandon Valley’s 13U baseball program test out the new dugouts during the the Brandon Valley Baseball Association’s opening weekend at FNB Field@Aspen Park.

Brandon city alderman Chuck Parsons sought a city council position in April. He was elected and becomes the first of three new faces on the six-member council in 2018.

A late April snowstorm dumped more than a foot of snow in the area. 

Brandon gained a championship-style baseball field, thanks to the efforts of the Brandon Valley Baseball Association and their supporting sponsors, including the City of Brandon.

Community growing pains, state championship wins and weather: What were the big headlines in the Brandon area in 2018?
 
 
From municipal musical chairs to drinking water controversy, high school state championship wins to record-setting curveballs from Mother Nature, 2018 was a year for the books for the Brandon Valley area.
We’ve compiled the top 18 headlines from ’18. This week, we bring you the first half, in no particular order.
 
1. A new mayor. Nearly nine months before his fourth, and final, four-year term expired, mayor Larry Beesley tendered his resignation Aug. 20.
In a letter to the council, Beesley said his decision was not an easy one, but one that needed to be made, eluding to recent health concerns.
“The time has come for me to take the time to take care of myself. I was 40-some-years-old when I was first elected and I’m 60-some-years-old now, and my body is telling me that there’s some things that need to slow down, that you need to step away from something and unfortunately, this was the one that was chosen.”
The Brandon City Council unanimously appointed Paul Lundberg Oct. 1 to serve the remainder of Beesley’s term, through the first meeting in May.
Lundberg, a longtime business manager for the Brandon Valley School District, and TJ Cameron both interviewed for the role of mayor Sept. 26.
 “I have a passion for school and community and I want to be part of it to help make this a great community,” Lundberg said. “This is my time to give back to a community that has given so much to me and my family.”
A mayoral election is in the works for 2019.
2. Water woes continue. Brandon’s water quality made national news Jan. 23 after CBS This Morning came to town last week to talk water with local city leaders and residents.
CBS news producer Suvro Banerji flew to Joe Foss Field to capture footage in Brandon, while national correspondent Anna Werner interviewed city administrator Bryan Read and resident Spencer Schenk via speakerphone from New York, where she was snowed in.
On the heels of a report about widespread radium in Texas water that aired Jan. 11, Werner’s latest story – “Treating contaminated household water costly for cities and consumers” – aired Jan. 26.
Brandon’s water development committee continues meeting monthly and formed a sub-group to focus on outdoor water conservation efforts. At a March 6 meeting, members of the volunteer task force proposed a three-part approach aimed at helping residents and businesses grasp the “why” behind saving water, offering incentives for doing so and enforcing penalties for those who don’t.
In April, Brandon meets the state and federal standards for drinking water for the 17th consecutive year.
In the 2017 Drinking Water Report, the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources bestowed Brandon with the Secretary Award for Drinking Water Excellence.
But the news that Brandon’s drinking water meets EPA standards hasn’t sat well with everyone in the community. Some say the well water test results are an outright fiction or that the city’s latest drinking water distinction is more of a “participation trophy” than an award.
Even Brandon’s water development committee, a group of 17 volunteer residents, are divided on whether their drinking water is safe and how much faith to put in the report.    
But city administrator Bryan Read says the standards should be respected, and the numbers don’t lie. 
“It gets down to this: We meet and exceed all standards set by the state and federal government,” Read said. “We didn’t develop the standards. These standards were developed by scientists, and there is stringent verification to determine the levels are safe. The studies are peer-reviewed, they’re numerous and they’re ongoing. There is extensive scientific evidence from the feds that support that evidence.”
In May, a three-tiered plan to regulate watering of yards was implemented for Brandon residents. The city’s lawn watering schedule permits watering every other day until usage hits 1.6 million gallons per day for three consecutive days, triggering stage two: once-a-week lawn watering.
3. Field of dreams. In May, the countdown began for opening day at First National Bank Field @ Aspen Park.
With 10 days to go until Little Leaguers hit the field, workers were in overdrive as the Brandon Valley Baseball Association geared up to present the community with a true championship-style stadium at Field A.
Seven months after breaking ground, the BVBA’s pet project was sodded, turfed and built, despite an especially wintry April that threw a three-week monkey wrench into the construction timeline. 
On May 19, BVBA hosted a Little League Minors and a Little League Majors “day at the park” – two days, actually, in which the 9-, 10- and 11-year-olds broke in the new field.
“They’re the future of our association. It’s pretty cool that they get to be the first kids on the field,” said Stuart Peschel, BVBA president.
When Chris Brown stood back and took it all in, he was amazed. Brown served as one of the leaders in making the First National Bank Field @ Aspen Park a reality. “I think it actually looks better than the brochure that we used to sell the project with,” he was quoted.
On June 2, the Brandon Valley Baseball Association officially “gifted” the state-of-the-art stadium to the community.
FNB Field @ Aspen Park is about providing every kid with “that big league moment,” Brown said.
 “I think there is a lot of community excitement for this project,” he said. “This project is about two things: It’s about kids and community, and we believe that we’re hitting on both of those right now. Our kids are super excited, and I think the community is super excited to have this field in town.”
4. The fate of Badlands Speedway. In April, Badlands Motor Speedway owner Chuck Brennan announced the property, which operated for 60-plus years as Huset’s Speedway, was up for sale, putting a $9.45 million price tag on the facility. A national online auction was planned for June.
Two days before the auction, Brennan removed Badlands from the auction block after receiving a letter from Minnehaha County Planning & Zoning that the property’s recreational zoning rights had expired.
In July, the county retracted the letter to avoid potential prolonged legal action, Commissioner Jeff Barth said, and Brennan rescheduled the auction for Sept. 15.
Seven vehicles were on site during the live auction, but no one submitted the $3.15 million minimum reserve for the legendary speedway. 
“That’s right, a good ol’ fashion round of ‘South Dakota Chicken’ got underway and everyone was standing their ground. In the spirit of compromise and fairness to everyone,” Brennan said, the 73-acre venue won’t go back on the auction block.
Instead, Brennan’s making an offer of his own – a limited-time, “deeply discounted” deal to buy the speedway for one penny shy of $6.3 million. That price expires at 3 p.m. Dec. 28, 2018.
Fans and supporters took stock in Brennan’s Oct. 1 threat to tear down the 74-acre property should it not sell by Dec. 28, and now they’re buying stock in the track themselves to keep the bulldozers at bay.
As of early December, nearly $200,000 had been raised in the two weeks since Shannon Dyce started the campaign on Facebook @HusetsSpeedwayTimeline.
5. Blizzard breaks record, rocks prom weekend. Five years from now, 10 years, 20 years, folks will still be talking about the blizzard in April 2018 that brought snow drifts as high as rooftops and nearly canceled prom.
Mother Nature dumped 13.7 inches on the area April 14, breaking a 24-year-old record for snowfall in a single day in April, according to the National Weather Service, and shattering the total monthly snowfall record by over 6 inches.
Friday dawned with a hail storm, a short but urgent burst of weather to come. Forecasters predicted eight to 12 inches overnight, and residents were getting ready.
Lifelong resident Nikki Terveer said she’d never known a BVHS prom to be rescheduled, let alone twice in two days.
But the 13-plus inches of snow that blanketed Brandon, coupled with the 40 to 50 mph gusts of wind and no travel advisory, proved the school district was correct in pushing off prom until after the blizzard, as maddening as it was for the 300-plus students who rented party busses and tuxes, bought flowers and dresses and made dinner reservations and hair appointments.
6. 911 service calls for help. A request to subsidize Brandon’s 911 emergency services provider, MED-Star, went behind closed doors in executive session at an April 2 city council meeting.
MED-Star began operations in Brandon in 2000 and in 2007, took over as the city’s 911 emergency services provider.
Jay Masur, president/CEO of MED-Star, said he and his wife have been subsidizing the 911 service since 2007. The city has not paid any money to MED-Star in their 11 years of service.
“From 2007 to now, we have maintained the 911 service,” Masur said, noting the 4.1-minute response time and fleet of seven ambulances. “We didn’t have to do that.”
On Dec. 17, a $50,000 stand-by fee request received a warm reception by Brandon’s council majority. The 5-1 vote directs city administration and legal counsel to draft an agreement for stand-by fees to be paid to MED-Star Ambulance, the city’s emergency services provider the past seven years.
Masur explained his for-profit service is actually losing money for its 911 services, totaling just shy of $730,000 for 2018.
The city of Brandon isn’t the only entity MED-Star will ask to help supplement is 911 costs. Dec. 11, AJ Spake, assistant director of MED-Star, addressed the Valley Springs City Commission.
“Out of fairness, I went to the county and asked for the same $50,000,” Masur said, adding commissioners didn’t consider the request because MED-Star is a for-profit company. “These services aren’t free. … I would ask that my city of Brandon, whom I’ve been loyal to … to take the edge off; that’s it, just take the edge off.”
Masur said he will continue to seek a stand-by fee from the county. Collectively, MED-Star hopes to recoup $135,000 annually of its $700,000 shortfall.
7. 1 day, 2 state champs. May 26 was a golden day to be a Brandon Valley Lynx, as the baseball team scored their first-ever state title in Sioux Falls at the same time the Lady Lynx track and field team rose to the top of the Class AA competition across the state in Rapid City.
After coming in second at the South Dakota State Track and Field Meet for three years running, the Lady Lynx finally surpassed longtime rival Sioux Falls Lincoln to bring home a state championship – the first in the history of the girls track program.
“We really struck it out of the park this weekend,” said BV track coach Troy Sturgeon.
On the same day, Brandon Valley’s club baseball team took Lynx fans on a sweet ride when BV knocked off defending champion and top-seeded Roosevelt in Class A’s state semifinals and rallied to defeat Pierre 5-2 in the championship, giving the BV program its first state title.
8. BVMS goes 1-to-1. Brandon Valley Middle School students started school this fall not only with new teachers and classes, but also new laptop computers to take home.
The Brandon Valley Board of Education approved implementing 1-to-1 technology for seventh- and eighth-graders at the board’s March 26 meeting, and the $1 million purchase arrived in July.
BVMS officially became a 1-to-1 learning environment Aug. 27 when 663 laptops were issued to seventh- and eighth-graders.
“This is a huge thing for the middle school,” said principal Brad Thorson. “Whatever subject it may be, it’s going to open up opportunities. I think it’s just going to drive the curriculum deeper.”
9. Council comings and goings. Despite concerted efforts by challengers T.J. Cameron and Spencer Schenk and platforms promising change, the results of the April 10 municipal election showed the majority of Brandon voters want experience guiding the city. 
Ward 1 incumbent Barb Fish was elected to her fourth term on the Brandon City Council, garnering 227 votes to 159 for Schenk and 38 for Michael Gross.
“I even voted for her,” Gross said. “I’m not good at this campaign stuff.”
Fish earned 53.5 percent of the vote, with 37.5 percent going to Schenk and 9 percent to Gross.
Ward 3 incumbent Chuck Parsons and Cameron did the same at the Brandon Golf Course, where the race was even closer. Parsons received 54 percent of the vote, with 245 ballots cast in his favor, compared to 210 votes for Cameron.
Turnout was 19 percent between the two wards – triple that of the city’s 2014 candidate election, which drew only 6.38 percent of voters.
On May 7, Tim Wakefield Jr. claims his chair at the council table, along with Parsons and Fish. Wakefield ran unopposed for the four-year Ward 3 term, previously held by Jon McInerny.
Meanwhile, it’s been a “musical chairs” kind of year in the Brandon City Council chambers, as Ward I Alderman Blaine Jones was the latest councilman to resign from the position in July.
In May, Don Wells left his alderman position due to a move, creating a vacancy for which Dana Clark was appointed to fill.
In January, Parsons was appointed to fill Roger Brooks’ council position.
In August, Brett Bastian becomes the third Brandon City Council member in 2018 to join by appointment when he’s selected to fill Jones’ chair.

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