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Native Sun News: Uranium mine hearing far from reservation

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Members of the Dakota Rural Action Black Hills Chapter and the Clean Water Alliance rallied against proposed uranium mining and milling on May 27 outside Custer City Hall, while inside Powertech (USA), Inc. used the government offices to promote the private project 50 miles west of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Photo: Dakota Rural Action

Opponent of uranium mining angry over cost and timing of Pierre meeting
Pine Ridge residents would have difficulty attending
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor

RAPID CITY – Opponents of proposed Black Hills uranium mining reacted angrily to a state official’s May 28 decision to hold a mandated public hearing in September at the state capital on Powertech (USA), Inc.’s large scale mine application for Custer and Fall River counties, adjacent to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

“That’s two weeks before the water permit hearings and doesn’t even give us time to do the preparation,” said opponent Becky Leas, a member of Dakota Rural Action and the Clean Water Alliance. “Really? And how are people who have jobs and animals going to go to Pierre for a week and how would the average person even be able to afford it?”

Leas was among members who staged an anti-mining rally May 27 outside Custer City Hall while Powertech used the government offices inside to hold a promotional meeting for its project.

The company, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Canadian penny-stock Powertech Corp., wants to conduct South Dakota’s first uranium injection mining and milling — or in-situ leaching (ISL) —at a previously mined and unreclaimed site 13 miles northwest of Edgemont in the Black Hills.

The project entails extracting groundwater, forcing it back into the aquifer with oxygen and carbon dioxide to dissolve and release uranium from rock, pumping the mineral water to the surface, refining the product, shipping it to nuclear power producers, disposing of the waste and effluent, cleaning up the toxic and radioactive materials at the site, and monitoring for environmental compliance.

The proposal calls for assigning the company the water rights to 9,000 gallons per minute from the Black Hills area aquifers throughout an estimated 20-year project period.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe, Debra White Plume of the non-profit Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way), Charmaine White Face, her non-profit Defenders of the Black Hills, and other interested parties are intervening on the federal level to prevent the permitting of the 10,580-acre proposed Dewey-Burdock ISL mine and mills.

White Plume was among nearly 40 opponents of the proposal who attended the state-level pre-hearing in Rapid City. Newly appointed Board of Minerals and Environment member Rex Haag listened to arguments for holding the hearing in the Black Hills area and for delaying it until after water permit hearings for the mine and mills, which are scheduled for Rapid City in the weeks of October 7 and 28.

After a three-hour public session, Haag, appointed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard earlier this year, ruled the large-scale mine hearing would be held Sept. 23 in Pierre, to save travel expenses in the state government’s staff budget.

Leas told the Native Sun News that many of the people who would be most affected by the proposal, such as residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, would not have the time or money to travel to Pierre for the hearing. “I find it incomprehensible to hold the hearing in Pierre,” she said. “This is about West River, our water and our lives here.”

By law, the decisions of the pre-hearing chairman are final unless the rest of the Board of Minerals and Environment overrules them. However, the decisions also may be appealed to the state Circuit Court and Supreme Court, according to the official letter announcing the pre-hearing.

With opposition to permitting, Powertech’s stocks are at an all-time low of six cents a share.

(Contact Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health and Environment editor at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

Copyright permission by Native Sun News

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