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     Meander: To proceed by or take a winding or indirect course: The stream meandered through the valley. –

How appropriate that the description for public water in South Dakota includes “meandering” in the legal definition.

For decades, the dispute between landowners whose property has been immersed by invasive lakes and streams and sportsmen who use these bodies of water has gone unresolved.

During that time, the state Legislature has meandered along, vacillating between attempting to fix the conflict or ignoring it. The state Supreme Court, thanks to a lawsuit brought by a landowner, ended the indefinite phase by telling the Legislature it must write a law that puts the matter to rest.

To its credit, a special legislative task force has been working hard on the issue and now has drafted a bill that it hopes will end the dispute.

In South Dakota, nothing is more important than agriculture. We are a farm and ranch state. It powers our economy. If you doubt this, take a look at the weakening sales tax collections, which are directly connected to a weaker ag economy.

But what about tourism? Also extremely important, and fishing and hunting are key components of the state’s second largest industry. Fishermen, boaters, and hunters all use the vast array of lakes in this state, and many retail businesses – restaurants, bait shops, motels, sporting goods outlets – are affected by that activity.

However, watching this debate over the years, it seemed that the rights of property owners were being compromised. Some history is in order. The right to own property was a driving force in the settlement of this country. Samuel Adams, patriot that he was, said it as well as anyone:

“Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First, a right to life; secondly to liberty, and thirdly, to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can.”

Landowners have been wronged over the years when forced to pay taxes on land they could no longer access, or to see sportsmen use the water that covers their property. Ultimately, our entire economic system is based on the right to own property. Some government oversight is needed, particularly in the area of environmental protection. But beyond that, be wary.

The proposed legislation, like all compromises, will be debated and amended, apparently at a special legislative session. Any final version should spell out these two important points: A landowner can retain his boundaries if he marks them. And he should not have to pay taxes on the land submerged by public water encroachment.

June 7, 2017