Lawmakers want buffer to protect Bear Butte
By Celeste Calvitto, Journal Staff Writer Friday, January 27, 2006
PIERRE - Paul Valandra and Jim Bradford are on a mission.
The two Democratic state lawmakers, by introducing legislation to prohibit liquor licenses within four miles of Bear Butte near Sturgis, are seeking to protect a site that is sacred to many American Indians on the northern Great Plains.
“But we don’t want to scare anybody, either,” Valandra said this week.
Valandra, a Rosebud Sioux, and Bradford, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said they are working on an outreach effort to let people who think they might be affected know that the legislators want to talk to everybody.
“We know that we are causing concern for many people out there,” Valandra said. “We want to hear their views. � They’ve got our cell-phone numbers.”
Specifically, HB1233 says that on-sale licenses would not be issued to current businesses or those that will be within four miles of the boundaries of Bear Butte State Park.
The action comes as a result of an announcement last summer by Jay Allen, the Arizona-based owner of the Broken Spoke Saloon in Sturgis. He wants to build a biker bar and concert site on land south of Bear Butte for this year’s Sturgis motorcycle rally.
“I remember thinking, that guy is going to catch some hell before this is all over,” Valandra said with a chuckle. “There will be Indians coming from all over.”
Allen did not return phone calls seeking comment before news deadline. But in an interview with the Rapid City Journal last year after opposition surfaced to his plans, he said, “From the onset, I’ve reached my arms out to the Native American community with totally good intentions to recognize their heritage, only to discover that it was not well received.”
State Sen. Kenneth McNenny, R-Sturgis, said the proposal may have “disastrous consquences.” He said the proposed boundaries are unclear but that he is concerned that the plan could affect a number of venues such as campgrounds and may include part of the city of Sturgis.
“I am very apprehensive about it,” House Majority Leader Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, said.
Meanwhile, Bradford said he and Valandra have a plan to “grandfather” existing establishments with liquor licenses that might be affected.
They also have an explanation for the four-mile distance.
When tribes challenged a plan for a shooting range near Bear Butte as disruptive, experts said it would take four miles to create a buffer from noise.
“We decided to go with that,” Valandra said.
They said the quest to protect Bear Butte is shared by others.
“It’s not only Indians who are concerned,” Bradford said.
The Defenders of the Black Hills group, which came out against Allen’s plan, is raising money to buy land around Bear Butte to create a buffer zone.
“Bear Butte belongs to everbody,” Valandra said.
And the two lawmakers believe that bikers who make the pilgrimage to Sturgis each year won’t be upset with their plan.
“Bikers are cool guys,” Valandra said. “They don’t want to desecrate Indian ground.”
Bradford said more and more Sturgis rally bikers from throughout the country are visiting the Pine Ridge reservation.
“They are interested in our culture,” he said.
Bradford acknowledged that even if the law is passed, it won’t go into effect until July 1, and it wouldn’t stop Allen’s plan if he buys a Meade County license before then.
But he calls it a “step in the right direction” to preserve the integrity of Bear Butte.
“To me, it’s a unified church,” Bradford said. “I feel like other people would whose religion is being disturbed.”
Contact Celeste Calvitto at 394-8438 or Celeste.Calvitto@rapidcityjournal.com