Tapio: ‘Broken Promises and Lost Opportunities’ on Non-Meandered Waters Bill

South Dakota Congressional Candidate and Watertown State Senator, Neal Tapio Monday expressed disappointment regarding SB 199, a bill meant to end a long simmering state feud over the balance between private land owners and sportsmen who believe in public access to bodies of water for angling and recreational use on private land. Tapio and 18 other senators voted to kill the bill in floor consideration Monday by a vote of 19-16.

Tapio blames authors of the bill for including several fatal flaws and unreasonable provisions in the bill’s language that he says made it almost impossible to reach a compromise, including one major sticking point which could have made it illegal for private landowners to hunt and fish on their own property.

“After more than a year of conversation, a special session and a 15-person committee to address this issue, it is an understatement to say this final legislation was a disappointment and a failure,” Tapio said.

“I think it’s unfair to South Dakota sportsmen who were misled into believing that this was a reasonable attempt to open as many waters to fishing as possible,” Tapio said.

From antiquity, non-meandered waters have been defined as drainage basins on private land which collect enough water to make them too wide and deep to meander across on foot or horseback. Existing rules define such bodies of water as being at least 40 acres in size and too deep to walk across.

What became known as the ‘Open Waters Bill’ sought to preserve a presumption of openness in all but a dozen or so non-meandered lakes in South Dakota.

Senator Tapio believes fatal flaws doomed the legislation by attempting to include all non-meandered bodies of water and by allowing owners in severalty to close down lake access to other land owners of shared bodies of water.

“This bill literally could have made it possible for one apportioned landowner to close down access to an entire non-meandered lake, making it impossible for adjoining landowners to use that lake for fishing or recreation, even on their own land” Tapio said.

“Think about that. You have water on your property and you want to take your grandchild hunting. For some reason another landowner requests the lake to be closed and so it is closed to all recreation, both public and private, thereby preventing you from hunting ducks with your grandson on your own land,” Tapio said.

Tapio also said that expanding the recreational definition beyond fishing to include boating, swimming, hunting or other activities also made the measure too broad and raised additional opposition to the bill.

“I had high hopes that experienced Republican legislators could come up with a process to respect the very basics of private property ownership, while creating a pathway to open up as many lakes as possible to public access fishing,” Tapio said.

“Unfortunately, this bill expanded the scope of the problems by including all recreation on all non-meandered lakes, while failing to address the simple core principles of private property rights,” Tapio said.

“Along with many other problems, it simply wasn’t fair to drag this process on any longer,” Tapio said.