Grass roots group disappointed with ruling

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STURGIS, S.D. – Meade County Planning Commission granted an on-sale liquor license to owners of the Broken Spoke Saloon Dec. 3. Prior to this approval, the commission granted the owners an off-sale license to sell alcohol to those on the go. The saloon is within the boundaries of the 600-acre Broken Spoke Campground located off Highway 79 in Sturgis.

But the approval came as a disappointment to supporters of Protect Bear Butte, a grass roots organization spearheaded by local resident Tamra Brennan. The group has fought to protect Bear Butte State Park from what they perceive as encroaching development and disrespectful activities near this location held sacred to Plains Indians since time immemorial.

Revelers of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, held in August, generate most of Broken Spoke’s primary source of income. Located about one mile from the border Bear Butte, the campground, hosts concerts and variety shows during the rally – and those that oppose liquor sales say this campground – and others like it – threatens the sanctity of Bear Butte.

About 25 people showed up to the late afternoon hearing. Brennan, Eastern Cherokee, said that now the commission has approved the sale of alcohol, it will only fuel the already unwanted noise, lights and raucous behavior during the rally and other biker-oriented events.

“We have been opposing this for three years now, and [the commission] never seem to listen to what we have to say on the issue, she said. “They approve without fail, so it’s actually no surprise that they approved it again.”

Located on the northeast edge of the Black Hills, Bear Butte’s elevation of 4,422 feet was formed millions of years ago by intrusions of igneous rock – creating a majestic loner flanked by golden plains. Natives gather there for ceremonies and send individuals on vision quests. Many more come to pray and leave offerings.

During the meeting one of the seven individuals that spoke in opposition to the license requested a one-mile buffer zone around the mountain, but was quickly rebuffed by Commissioner Chair Robert Mallow.

“I think that whenever you put a barrier around something, you’re taking the livelihood away from some of the occupants,” he said. “And I think you’re taking their right away.”

Commissioners said that they had no grounds to deny the private property rights of Broken Spoke, especially since the bar was nowhere near homes, an apartment building with small children, or across from a church.

Brennan responded by saying that Bear Butte “has been our church for thousands of years.”

Jim Seward, an attorney representing Broken Spoke, said that Brennan’s residence was within one mile of the “church” and that if his clients are in violation, so is Brennan.

“If there was a one mile protective buffer zone around Bear Butte, I expect that the sheriff, or someone, would have to go out and remove Miss Brennan from that one mile protection zone because she lives inside the church; and, I think with that comment she should understand the ridiculous nature of taking away somebody’s private property right,” he said.

In a separate interview, Brennan said that the campground serves as a front for “adult entertainment” activities during the rally, featuring activities such as wet T-shirt contests – something commissioners should have addressed prior to their vote.

Meanwhile, Brennan said that she and supporters plan on seeking legal action to further protect Bear Butte.

And she expects her organization’s release of the documentary “On Sacred Grounds” by early next year to further increase public awareness on the importance of protecting and preserving Bear Butte State Park.

For more information visit: www.protectbearbutte.com and/or www.protectsacredsites.com.