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Why Preserve French Creek?


“Awareness is key. In the absence of information, none of us know what is happening and what could be jeopardizing our health, our water supply, and our planet.”

~ Erin Brockovich

  • In August 2022, Custer County residents living along, and near, Lower French Creek learned that the City of Custer’s new Wastewater Facility Upgrade Plan would include the Black Hills of South Dakota’s clean, historic French Creek as the dumping ground for its sewage wastewater. They immediately contacted the City and its contractor to request a meeting for the purpose of hearing firsthand the City’s Plan to move its wastewater discharge location an area of French Creek outside Custer City limits.


  • At the requested meeting - attended by contractors DGR & KLJ, Custer City Mayor, Custer City Administrator, and the Custer City Planner, the following was learned:

    • The proposed French Creek discharge location begins approximately one mile below Stockade Lake, about 3 miles outside of the Custer City limits.

    • The discharge location selected is a short distance from the site of the historic Glen Erin School, the 1882 first public school building in the Black Hills.

    • The City chose French Creek as its new sewage wastewater discharge location because it was the least costly alternative presented by the contractor (DGR Engineering of Sioux Falls, SD), who was hired to assist with the City’s required wastewater plant upgrades. DGR, in turn, subcontracted with KLJ Engineering of Rapid City, South Dakota, along with others, to complete work under the plan.

    • The selection of French Creek was made with full knowledge by the Mayor and Council that the waters of French Creek would be “degraded” by their actions. Further, the City indicated to the State of South Dakota DANR that it would be “too costly” for the City to keep the waters of French Creek at its current CLEAN level, or, even to just MEET the State’s anti-degradation level.

    • The City was able to obtain a wastewater permit from the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (SD-DANR) without communicating with, nor soliciting input, from private property owners who will be having the city’s sewage wastewater flowing through their properties.

    • Approximately 100 private property owners along the French Creek discharge route have confirmed that they were never communicated with by the City of Custer or by its contractor about the plan, at any time; even though such contacts were identified as required within the City’s plan.

    • The City’s February 2020 plan states:

      • "ALL stakeholders will be communicated with directly, in addition to publishing public notice announcements in its designated newspaper." (During this period when the Public Notices regarding actions related to the Wastewater Plant Upgrades were printed by the City’s designated newspaper, approximately only 10% of the County residents subscribed to the newspaper.) Council meetings were held, and decisions were made during the height of Covid 19 - when Americans were advised to stay home, and thousands were dying in South Dakota. Still, no effort was made to engage the 100 private property owners (stakeholders) located along the first few miles of the sewage wastewater discharge area These were the ones who would be most impacted by their actions.

    • The Custer City Council wrote in their permit application that “no comments regarding the French Creek alternative were received.”

  • Following the August 2022 meeting with the Custer City officials, concerned residents of Custer County and the area organized as a group to protect French Creek from being polluted. During this time members learned:

    • ​NO Environmental Assessment (EA) and NO Environmental Impact Statement had been completed for the NEW French Creek wastewater discharge location prior its selection. The EA included in documentation actually pertains to the "plant location", not French Creek, itself.

    • NO socio-economic study regarding the French Creek Alternative was ever completed regarding effects to the area, despite provisions of the contract indicating the need to do so. Reference is made in City documents however to a socio-economic study of Beaver Creek residents and businesses, and the City of Custer occurring.

    • The Custer Facility Plan indicates that residents and businesses affected by the Beaver Creek options, apparently, participated in a socio-economic study; as those options “were excluded from consideration” due to the negative impacts (the alternatives) would have on businesses and residents of those (Beaver Creek) areas. The socio-economic impact to Custer County and the State of South Dakota, by choosing to pollute French Creek, would have been found to be greater than Beaver Creek. Therefore, they should have also caused the exclusion of that alternative for the same reasons given for the Beaver Creek exclusion.

  • French Creek flows through Custer State Park beside lodges, restaurants, campgrounds, and trails. The park hosts more than 2 million visitors annually and the millions of sales tax dollars received from those visitors supports state government, schools, city and county governments, and the livelihoods of businesses in communities throughout the Black Hills, including Custer. Yet, the City of Custer chose to NOT perform any environmental or socio-economic assessments relative to the French Creek Alternative. They have chosen to disregard the negative environmental and economic impacts of selecting this as their sewage wastewater discharge location.

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”

~ Chief Seattle

More Background

  • In the early 1980’s, a committee of community leaders and government officials was formed to determine a new wastewater discharge location for the City of Custer. This was after the cleanup of Stockade Lake was mandated, following years of it being polluted by City of Custer wastewater.

  • Records from that period indicate that several public meetings were held and several studies completed, resulting in the decision by the City of Custer to move its wastewater discharge location to Flynn Creek, where no private homes, household wells, businesses or public visibility was present. This location is where Custer’s sewage wastewater has been discharging since the mid-1980s.

  • So why change now?

    • Simply because discharging wastewater into French Creek was the cheapest alternative provided by their contractor(s).

There is no indication recent Custer City leadership reviewed or considered any of the historical information and studies of the 1980s that led to selecting Flynn Creek, not French Creek, as its wastewater discharge location.

Also, disregarded by the City is SD Codified Law 34A-10-8, which states

“…No conduct may be authorized or approved which does, or is likely to, pollute, impair, or destroy the air, water, or other natural resources or the public trust in the resources, if there is a feasible and prudent alternative consistent with the reasonable requirements of the public health, safety, and welfare.”

The City of Custer was given Alternatives* to polluting a clean French Creek under its Wastewater Treatment Facility Upgrade Plan. These included:

  1. No Action (i.e., leave facilities and routes as they currently exist)

  2. Flynn Creek (included upgrading equipment and continuing to discharge to the current discharge location). *Pipelines for nearly 2/3 of the distance had been upgraded with pipe that has a lifetime expectancy of approximately 100 years. * *Costs for this Alternative were calculated/presented to include pipe replacement costs for the entire distance involved when that is not necessary; thus, making it more expensive than the French Creek Alternative.

  3. Beaver Creek (Sidney Park Basin Outlet)

  4. Beaver Creek (Airport/Hwy 385)


*Other alternatives, including more environmentally friendly and less costly options, than those presented by the contractors, were provided by Preserve French Creek in its presentations to the City Council, County Commissioners, and DANR. 

*Per the South Dakota law cited above, no permit should have been granted by DANR to the City of Custer for discharge of its sewage wastewater into a CLEAN French Creek when other “feasible and more prudent” alternatives were available.

Preserve French Creek, Inc. Outreach and Actions

  • October 2022, Preserve French Creek provided a presentation to the Custer Mayor and City Council wherein alternatives to polluting French Creek were given. No questions were allowed to be asked of the Mayor or Council at this meeting, and no feedback was received. No response was ever given to the alternatives presented by the concerned citizens present.

  • November 2022, the same presentation by Preserve French Creek was given to the Custer County Commissioners at their meeting and a letter from the Commission to the City of Custer in support of the continued use of the City’s current Flynn Creek wastewater discharge location requested. The Commissioners agreed to do this, and a letter was sent to the City of Custer.

  • Also in November 2022, a third Preserve French Creek presentation, identifying problems with the process that lead to the current permit given the City of Custer, was given to staff of South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR) in Pierre, South Dakota – the entity responsible for approving the Custer Wastewater Permit. Following the presentation, Preserve French Creek requested that Custer’s permit be withdrawn so that public participation in the process could be reopened and other alternatives to dumping wastewater into a clean French Creek considered. No action was taken by DANR regarding this request.

  • December 2022, despite the requests for reconsideration and the opposition of concerned citizens to the moving of its wastewater discharge location to French Creek expressed repeatedly at City of Custer bi-monthly council meetings, the City determined to move from Phase I construction of its Wastewater Facility Plan to Phase III – the construction of a wastewater pipeline to French Creek.


  • Note: Previously, Preserve French Creek had been told by City officials

    and its contractor that construction of Phase III was not scheduled to begin until the Fall of 2023.

  • January 2023, Preserve French Creek members began circulating petitions among Custer County voters to have a ballot Initiative voted upon declaring the discharge of any treated wastewater from the Custer Wastewater Treatment Plant into French Creek a Nuisance.

    -In March, the Custer County Commission recognized that the required number of registered voter signatures had been obtained and verified and agreed to placement of the Initiative on the June 6 Ballot.

    -On June 6, 2023, the Nuisance Initiative to not pollute French Creek was passed overwhelmingly by Custer County voters.

    -On June 8, 2023, Custer County Commissioners canvassed the June 6 vote and certified passage of the Nuisance Initiative. To date, the City has ignored the vote by Custer County residents FOR the Nuisance Initiative, and the hundreds who have signed an on-line petition opposing their plan to dump sewage wastewater into French Creek, and the City of Custer continues constructing its wastewater pipeline from the City to French Creek. A pipeline which, according to the vote of Custer County residents, cannot, without consequence, be used to discharge any treated wastewater from the City’s Wastewater Treatment Plant into French Creek!

  • As a result of the City’s disregard of the County-wide vote against the pollution of French Creek, Preserve French Creek, Inc. petitioned the 7th Circuit Court of South Dakota with a Writ of Mandamus to require that Custer County enforce the majority vote of its residents FOR implementation of the Nuisance Initiative and, thereby, preemptively keep the lesser entity (Custer City) from going forward with construction of a wastewater discharge pipeline to French Creek.

  • Following notification of the Preserve French Creek Court filing, the Custer County Attorney worked with the City of Custer to hire a 3rd party lawyer to defend both entities.

1.Why is the Custer County Attorney working with the City Attorney to fight a

County-passed Ordinance (opposed by Custer City officials) in Court? 

2.How is it that Custer County taxpayer dollars can be used to fight enforcement

of an Initiative that was passed by a significant majority of its residents?

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