Native Sun News: Tribes asked to comment on quarry plan

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman. All content © Native Sun News.

Computer modeling of original proposal, looking northwest from Rapid City: Visual impact would be significant, because the new mine on public land would be potentially six times the size of the existing open quarry on private land. Courtesy USFS.

Following five years of debate with tribes, the Black Hills National Forest is giving all community members until May 3 to comment about a proposal from Pete Lien and Sons, Inc. for a new limestone quarry on 100 acres of public land bordering the northwest edge of Rapid City.

“These comments will be used to prepare a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and are critical in making good decisions about how to manage this area of your National Forest,” Mystic District Forest Ranger Robert J. Thompson said in releasing a draft EIS.

Concerned about air pollution’s health effects from the open quarry, the non-profit environmental group Defenders of the Black Hills also is encouraging people to send comments to the U.S. Forest Service.

“This area is northwest of Rapid City and that dust comes right down on the city,” Defenders of the Black Hills notes in a written statement.

The USDA Forest Service consulted tribes and other stakeholders in preparing the 170-page draft to fulfill the agency’s legal mandate under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) for consideration of “the relationship between short-term uses of man’s environment and the maintenance and enhancement of long-term productivity.”

Those invited to consult included the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Northern Arapaho Tribe, Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, Yankton Sioux Tribe, Banks and Gesso Historical Society, Pete Lien and Sons, Inc. (PLS), and the South Dakota State Historic Preservation Officer (S.D. SHPO).

Those who actually ended up participating in consultation were the Cheyenne River Sioux, Northern Arapaho, Oglala Sioux, Rosebud Sioux, Standing Rock Sioux, Banks and Gesso, PLS, S.D. SHPO, and Black Hills National Forest. PLS’ plan of operations calls for open-pit surface mining to extract some 10 million tons of limestone materials over the next 25 years, at a pine-forested public property near its present Black Hawk Quarry on private land in Pennington County.

The Rapid City-based company has received dozens of environmental performance awards from government and industry since the 1960s, when compliance with standards was still voluntary. Among the honors is the 2004 Environmental Steward Industry Award, presented by the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Assoc. to company President Pete Lien, for Excellence in Industry Leadership Towards Respect of the Land, Water, and Air.

According to the proposal, the mining would follow best-management procedures, or state-of-the-art technical practices. The operation would remove vegetation, stockpile topsoil for future reclamation, drill and blast rock down to the bottom of a 25-foot bed of limestone.

Blasted rock may be crushed on site to reduce size for hauling. Trucks would haul the raw material to Lien’s existing lime plant, located approximately one and one-half miles from the quarry site on the east side of S.D. Highway 79 (Sturgis Road) for processing into chemical grade limestone products.

Concurrent reclamation is planned. Land disturbance would amount to either 12 or 60 acres at any one time, depending on the decision in the final EIS. Reclamation would leave a depression on the existing hillside. Once mineral extraction is complete, high walls would be reduced; the site would be graded; topsoil would be applied, and vegetation would be planted.

The Forest Service identified four key issues in the draft EIS: heritage properties and American Indian religious-use sites; changes in vegetation and wildlife habitat; effects on public health and safety; and visual effects.

Community has three choices
The draft EIS offers three options: no mining activity, the original PLS proposal, and a modified version. The amended version would reduce the area of disturbance, add reclamation steps to achieve a more natural-looking result in a shorter amount of time utilizing native vegetation, require any new power-lines to be buried instead of overhead, and increase measures to reduce dust.

Among other things, the modified version would allow from 12 to 25 acres of disturbance at a time. The original proposal is for allowing 60 acres of disturbance at a time. Current PLS quarry activities disturb 20 acres at a time. The nearby PLS processing plant that crushes the rock for lime production is operating at maximum capacity and would not be expected to change that level with the proposed new quarry.

From 2006 to 2010, the Forest Service held six tribal consultations regarding the proposed new quarry, which it calls the Section 30 Project. Two of them were in Rapid City on Jan. 19 and Feb. 28, 2006. Another took place that year in Spearfish on June 27 and 28. In 2009, consultations took place at the Crazy Horse Memorial near Custer on April 21 and again in Spearfish on Sept. 17.

Another consultation took place at Crazy Horse Memorial on June, 15, 2010.

In addition to holding the consultation meetings in the Black Hills, Forest Service and PLS representatives accepted formal invitations to three reservations to meet with tribal council members at their regular sessions.

The first of these meetings was at Eagle Butte, with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council on March 8, 2006. The next was at Rosebud, with the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council on Sept. 13, 2006. The last was at Fort Washakie, Wyoming, with the Northern Arapaho Tribal Council on Sept. 20, 2006.

Each of these meetings included presentations by the Forest Service and PLS on the project proposal, a review of the historic properties, and possible mitigation efforts to protect the sites.

Some tribes sign, some don’t
In making recommendations for the draft EIS, the Forest Service took into consideration testimony that quarry operations would affect cultural resources by permanently altering the landscape adjacent to the sites. Religious-use sites would be affected by restriction of some access during the mining period, and by the noise, dust and traffic perceptible to anyone using the area for religious purposes, the Forest Service recognized.

Consultation led to the preparation and signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) in late 2007. Signatories are the S.D. SHPO, Pete Lien and Sons, Inc., Black Hills National Forest, the Northern Arapaho Tribe, and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

Invited signatories for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did not agree to the MOA. In correspondence to the Black Hills National Forest (BHNF), the Oglala Sioux Tribe expressed strong opposition to the MOA, based on treaty rights and the sacredness of all the Black Hills to Lakota people.

In similar correspondence, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe rejected the MOA on the basis of Tribal Resolution No. 216-06-CR, signed May 5, 2006. The resolution opposes all timber harvest permits, mining permits, and all other permits that may have an adverse affect on historic and cultural properties or areas of significance within the Black Hills.

The no-action alternative in the draft environmental impact statement would correspond to the demands of the Oglala and Cheyenne River Oyates. The company’s original proposal and the government’s alternative both would abide by the terms included in the 2007 Memorandum of Agreement.

Protection and open access would be provided for the five eligible historic properties and one American Indian religious-use site mentioned in the MOA, according to the Forest Service.

The MOA consists of 14 stipulations that address mitigation measures for these cultural resources.

Among the main provisions, PLS would pay to conduct surveys and related activities if new sites are discovered in the project area. PLS also would establish an American Indian student scholarship fund for tribal members at an accredited institution of higher learning.

PLS would have to follow the rules of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, by notifying consulting tribes, the BHNF, and the SHPO about potential field review needs, if human remains turn up in the project area.

The tribes would receive a final monitoring report. Nonetheless, says the Forest Service: “American Indian religious use would be affected by altering the adjacent landscape, restricting some access within the proposed quarry area during the mining period, and from the noise, dust, and traffic.”

The modified proposal, Alternative C, “would have a somewhat lesser effect because less ground would be disturbed and un-reclaimed at any one time, and the area would be returned to a ponderosa pine forest similar to today in a shorter time period,” says the draft EIS.

“Indirect effects that cannot be quantified by the proposed action are associated with larger issues involving treaty rights and the sacred nature of the Black Hills to the Lakota Sioux and other Indian tribes,” the Forest Service recognized.

“It is understood that many activities – perhaps most prominently mining activities such as the proposed quarry operation – are particularly sensitive concerns to the Sioux and other Indian nations who have strong grievances regarding treaty and settlement issues.” it continued.

What’s in it for land, air?
The Forest Service also addressed the issue of the operation’s removal of existing vegetation with potential negative effects to some wildlife species. “This change could be long lasting,” it notes. Noise from blasting and quarry operations could displace existing wildlife use,” it says.

“There would be a temporary loss of resources from removal of timber products and temporary gap in growing new trees. Tree regeneration would occur during reclamation.” However, no endangered species or extremely rare habitat would be directly affected, it notes.

Authorities examined the proposed mining’s likelihood of degrading the air quality by producing dust and diesel emissions. They looked at the possibility of increased noise from blasting, equipment and crusher operation, and truck hauling; as well as increased safety hazards due to truck hauling and associated traffic.

The proposed quarry would increase short term air quality effects but is not anticipated to exceed state or federal air quality standards, according to the Forest Service.

“The air quality impacts from the proposed Section 30 project would be very similar to Pete Lien and Sons, Inc. existing Black Hawk Quarry, which is approximately one mile northeast of the proposed quarry,” they said.

The proposed new quarry would operate in much the same way as the existing one. The quarry has been producing an average of 1.5 million tons per year of limestone and has been operating for nine years.

The new project would operate 250 days per year, similar to the Black Hawk Quarry, which complies with South Dakota air permits. Under the PLS proposal, the scale of mining would be potentially six times the size of its existing open quarry on private land. But the forest service suggests mining smaller plots consecutively.

Impact would be compound
Three other limestone quarries already are active on private land near the proposed one. In addition to PLS, the operators are Hills Materials and Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua (GCC) Concrete Plant.

“Hills Material will likely continue to operate their quarry on the south end of the PLS proposed Section 30 site, thus resulting in a cumulative increase to current levels of mixed traffic use. The combination of two quarries would result in increased noise and dust in the area. Additional quarries might also be developed in the general area,” the Forest Service draft EIS concluded.

“The state of South Dakota would analyze cumulative impacts during the process of the proponent acquiring permits and would not issue the new permit if the Section 30 facility cannot meet applicable standards,” the Forest Service added.

The Minekahta Limestone in the immediate area is utilized in production by GCC, which formerly was the state-owned cement plant. Founded in 1944, Pete Lien and Sons, Inc. began producing quicklime and hydrated lime from the Minnekahta Limestone in late 1964 for plaster, water treatment, and soil stabilization.

Current PLS products are for use in scrubbers at in coal-fired power plants, water treatment, soil stabilization, and flux in steel manufacturing. Crushed limestone also is used in sugar processing, agricultural feeds, and glass production.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) provides for a 45-day public review/comment period for a Draft EIS. Comments on the new quarry proposal must be in writing and mailed to: Robert Thompson, District Ranger, Mystic Ranger District, Section 30 Limestone Mining Project, 8221 South Highway 16, Rapid City, SD 57702, or emailed to: comments-rocky-mountain-black-hills-mystic@fs.fed.us with ‘Section 30’ as the subject. The Draft EIS is available on the BHNF web site at http://go.usa.gov/g4a.

(Talli Nauman is the NSN Health and Environment Editor and is a co-director of Journalism to Raise Environmental Awareness. Contact her at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

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