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2018-01-31 / Top News

Indian legislators lead fight to protect Black Hills against mining

By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Today
Health & Environment Editor


S.D. SEN. SHAWN BORDEAUX S.D. SEN. SHAWN BORDEAUX PIERRE — With foreign uranium and gold seekers poised to reopen large-scale mining claims in Lakota Territory, the Native American delegation in both chambers of the South Dakota Legislature is leading the sponsorship of an “act to prohibit certain extractive activities in the Black Hills.”

It would amend state code by adding a new section to read: “No mining for the purpose of extracting minerals, drilling for the purpose of exploring for minerals or resources, fracking, or any other extraction method may occur within the boundaries of the Black Hills, unless consent is given, by resolution, by each of the federally recognized Indian tribes in the state of South Dakota.”

Rep. Shawn Bordeaux spearheaded the House of Representatives’ introduction of that bill as HB1224 on Jan. 12, together with HB1225, which is an amendment to require notice and a hearing before the issuance of temporary water use permits for construction, testing or drilling.

At the same time, legislation is moving through the Pennington County Commission that allows the public to comment Feb. 6 in Rapid City on a proposal to regulate the mining industry in the central Black Hills.

County planning staff recommends the board of commissioners approve the Pennington County Planning Commission’s mining committee zoning ordinance draft revision for mine permits.

However, the non-profit Dakota Rural Action Black Hills Chapter has posted an action alert urging county voters to warn commissioners to raise the bar.

The 18-page draft ordinance revision, under consideration since April 2017, originally was for sand and gravel type mines. Then on Jan. 12, two paragraphs were added to apply it to “hard-rock” mineral mining, the organization noted.

“Two paragraphs are better than nothing, however more work will need to be done in the future on a mining ordinance that fully addresses hard-rock minerals (mineral mining),” it said in the alert calling on citizens to attend the commissioners’ hearing on the proposal or submit comments in writing to Assistant to the Board of Commissioners Holli Hennies via email at hollih@pennco.org.

Among considerations raised in a letter to the planning commission is the fact that silver, vanadium, uranium, and gold, all of which have been mined in the Black Hills, are not included in the draft section about when permits are needed, while being included in a later section addressing where mining can be located.

“They need to be included all through the ordinances, especially because a gold company is currently exploring near Rochford,” wrote the letter’s submitter, Lilias Jones Jarding of Rapid City.

The South Dakota subsidiary of Mineral Mountain Resources Ltd., based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, obtained a state permit Jan. 18 for drilling 33 holes on some 7,500 acres at the so-called Rochford Gold Project, located in the vicinity of the Lakota spiritual center of Pe’ Sla in Pennington County.

The gold prospecting company also obtained a temporary state water rights permit renewal for its drill rigs on Jan. 2, enabling it to withdraw 1.8 million gallons from Rapid Creek, at a maximum pump rate of 200 gallons per minute, through the end of April.

Prospectors anticipate Rapid and Castle Creek water usage of 5,000 to 10,000 gallons daily and up to 20,000 gallons “on occasion” for what the company dubs “North America’s Largest Gold Discovery” and promises could produce the equivalent in paydirt of the record-setting, now defunct nearby Homestake Gold Mine.

Jones Jarding calls upon commissioners to refine their definition of “disturbance” to include more than just digging, since modern in situ mining techniques frequently are used to dissolve ore with chemicals pumped into the underground water table.

This redefinition “would avoid situations in which in situ mining eluded coverage of the ordinance by not ‘disturbing’ 30 percent of the land surface” in the permit area, as required, she noted.

In situ mining is the “primary means by which uranium is currently mined, but is also used for other minerals,” the letter said.

“It typically has negative, long-term (if not permanent) impacts on groundwater. There are rock formations in Pennington County – both along the eastern edge of the Black Hills and in the Badlands area – that are the same formations that contain uranium elsewhere in this area.”

The county should require companies to give public notice of mining exploration plans, it said. State law requires no public notice before granting exploration permits.

This situation “worked to the detriment of residents in the Rochford area,” it said, adding, “By requiring adequate public notice of proposed exploration, the county would be both increasing transparency and protecting its residents and their land values.”

The decision to issue or renew a permit should be made by elected officials, such as the county commission, rather than an unelected employee, and the time period for appeals should be lengthened to 20 days, the letter advised.

Plus, it said, the draft should be changed to provide for local input about the anticipated effects on historical and cultural sites, which might otherwise be overlooked by state and federal agencies, leading to problems later.

“It is better to do a good job of this up front, rather than to scramble and try to ‘fix’ it after a hard-rock mining company applies for a permit under the current language,” Jones Jarding concluded.

“Failed hard-rock mining operations are extremely expensive to taxpayers, as shown by the two Superfund sites at old gold mines in the northern Black Hills. Let’s work now and think ahead to prevent problems.”

The hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m. at the Pennington County Board of Commissioners Chambers, 130 Kansas City St. in Rapid City.

Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman@gmail.com

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