State offers help to Hideaway Hills homeowners

Cavers found water filling some of the underground caverns. Photo courtesy Paha Sapa Grotto

PIERRE — Gov. Kristi Noem said Thursday the state had no knowledge of an underground mine near Black Hawk.

But the state is willing to help homeowners who have been displaced because of sinkholes and the discovery of an old gypsum mine under their neighborhood, Noem said.

Noem hosted a conference call with homeowners in the Hideaway Hills subdivision on Thursday.

“I would say most of them were extremely concerned about their own safety and that of their families,” Noem said during her daily news conference.

The families want to know the extent of that mine that is underneath their neighborhood and are looking for a professional engineering firm that can come in and safely assess it to know really what the risks are and how everyone involved can proceed forward, the governor said.

“Their lives are completely in transition right now,” Noem said.

In addition to the governor and the homeowners, also on the call were Meade County commissioners and staff, Hunter Roberts, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Darin Bergquist, South Dakota DOT secretary, and Kristi Turman, director of South Dakota’s Office of Emergency Management.

Meade County Commissioner Doreen Creed said she was encouraged by what the governor had to say Thursday especially about helping the county and homeowners with the Federal Emergency Management Agency funds grant process and kicking in local match funds if the grant were awarded.

 “We have been offering our guidance to the county as they tackle the challenge in front of them and working with the community members to bring them as much help as possible,” she said.

Noem said the state will work with Meade County in filing paperwork for FEMA through the state’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

Residents have until July 31 to apply through Meade County as the sponsor for this grant money. It’s a lengthy process that would be aided by Jennifer Sietsema, the executive director of Black Hills Council of Local Governments and her team.

If approved, the homeowners would receive 75% of the certified appraised value of their homes from the federal government and be responsible for the remining 25%.

Noem said that if FEMA approved the application, the state would commit to provide 10% of the match.

Noem said the mining that was done by the state before it was sold to the Fuss family of Rapid City was surface mining, not underground mining.

“It was a completely different operation than what this older mine would have been a part of years and years ago,” she said.

When the surface mining was conducted it was done with no indication of the underground mine being there, she said.

Noem said the surface mine was restored and there was reclamation that happened on the property before the property was sold.

“The state had no knowledge of anytime that this (underground) mine was in place. It is not on our records,” she said.

Noem said there are county records and federal records that the mine existed in the early 1900s, but the state had no knowledge the old gypsum mine was ever in place.

The warranty deed filed in Meade County on June 17, 1994, showed that the state of South Dakota by and through the South Dakota State Cement Plant Commission sold the Hideaway Hills property for $1 to Raymond C. and Carol M. Fuss of 12890 Bogus Jim Rd., in Rapid City.

The deed stipulated that the grantor (South Dakota) reserves unto itself all deposits of coal, ores, metals and other minerals, asphaltum, oil, gas, geothermal resources, and other like substance in such land (except sand and gravel), together with the right to prospect for, mine and remove the same upon rendering compensation to the owner or lessee for all damages that may be caused by such prospecting or removal.

Then, in August of 1994, Raymond and Carol Fuss conveyed the property to Larry Dean Fuss and Raymond C. Fuss, listed as joint tenants.

DENR Director Roberts told the governor that in 1985 there were some test wells drilled on the site.

“At no time did one of those wells hit a shaft, so even at the time that the surface mining was happening or after was there any indication to the state that there was an old mine there that had been abandon,” she said.

Noem said she told residents on the call Thursday that the state has shared the names of professional engineering firms who can come in and do an assessment on the mine.

“We don’t have that kind of expertise on staff in state government … so we told them we would work with them to make sure we were aggressively finding someone who could give them the kind of assessment and deem that area safe or unsafe as soon as possible,” she said.

Noem revealed that the state also may be able to help displaced homeowners with grant funds through South Dakota Housing Authority.

“It’s utilized in situations like this to help families that are going through some kind of a natural disaster,” she said.

These homeowners could qualify for up to $2,500 to help cover the cost of renting somewhere else and utility bills for a period of time, Noem said.

“We will get this information out to these families to see if they would like to take advantage of some monetary resources that could help them through the next several months,” she said.

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