Proposed gold mine rejected by planning and zoning

Deadwood Standard Project owners Dana Bender, left, and Mark Nelson, right, examine an old mine crater and tunnel left from previous mining activity at the proposed mine site. On Thursday, the Lawrence County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the county commission reject the company’s request for a conditional use permit. Pioneer file photo

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DEADWOOD — A proposed gold mine near the rim of Spearfish Canyon seeking a conditional use permit required by the company to operate received a motion to deny from the Lawrence County Planning and Zoning Commission.

The motion followed a three and half hour public hearing during a special meeting of the commission Thursday where citizens, commissioners, and county officials alike voiced a litany of concerns regarding conditional use permit (CUP) #453 application by principals involved in the Deadwood Standard Project/VMC LLC.

The unanimous motion to deny, based on a staff report recommending the same and submitted by Planning and Zoning Administrator Amber Vogt, was made by Travis Schenk and seconded by Kelly Fuller.

Vogt said she is slated to discuss the planning and zoning vote Tuesday before the full Lawrence County Commission. She added that just because the planning and zoning commission rejected the permit request, the full commission may decide different as it is up to them whether to issue the permit.

In her recommendation to the planning and zoning commission, Vogt raised three questions in regard to the proposed gold mine including access to development, the securing of a state mine permit, and the effect of the proposed project upon housing, public education, law enforcement, fire protection, public and private water systems, public sewer and solid waste systems, public roads, health services, parks and recreation within the county.

Vogt’s report states that adequate assurance has not been provided demonstrating company has permission to cross the adjacent landowner’s property (Coeur/Wharf) for mining purposes and operations.

Further, the application submitted does not identify the means and location of ore processing. And VMC has not submitted a copy of a valid state permit for the operation proposed in the application.

County Commissioner Daryl Johnson, who sits on the planning and zoning board, pointed out that VMC originally applied for a CUP in 2012 when Johnson sat on the commission, and at that time was directed to provide more information, a directive that was never acted upon or followed up on.

“We basically said, ‘We want you to go to the state, the DENR, have them analyze all of your data and come back to us with a recommendation. … To my knowledge, at this point, we’ve never gotten that information back,” Johnson said. “Another concern of mine is the fact that the state sets up a bond requirement and as we’ve seen in the past with several superfund sites in Lawrence County, the bonds that have been put in place aren’t nearly sufficient to cover what’s happened. Shortfalls of hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Johnson also raised concerns with the noise, specifically the back-up alarm sound and its potential to be heard in the Canyon, as he had previously said in 2012, when VMC applied for the CUP.

“At that time you brought a piece of equipment in to do the sound studies and there was no sound picked up anywhere in the Canyon. The problem was the piece of equipment you brought in didn’t have a back-up alarm,” Johnson said. “At that time, that was a concern to me that if that was not correct, then what else isn’t correct?”

Along with nuts and bolts issues such as obtaining the state permit, specifying the method of ore processing, access, and haul roads, commissioners heard passionate testimony from more than 20 individuals over the course of two hours opposing the venture.

Environmental impact to Spearfish Canyon and its watershed, along with air quality, blasting, bonding, reclamation, acid rock drainage potential, the failed Brohm Mine and subsequent superfund site, and yield versus damage to the environment were all common themes voiced by opponents.

“I don’t think in this day and age right now that we need to be doing this mining right now. I understand gold I understand what it is. I understand that it is an important atom and an important mineral. But at this day and age, right now, we don’t need to be doing this, here in South Dakota. We have a lot more things that we need to be worrying about and things that will help us economically, outside of this. We cannot be selling ourselves short. We cannot be selling our soul for a mine,” said Bill Knight.

President of the Spearfish Canyon Owner’s Association Cindi Knapp addressed the commission on behalf of the 200 homeowners in Spearfish Canyon and noted an extensive report commissioned by the associated and completed by Dr. Nuri Unzular that addresses the potential impact of the proposed mining operation.

“Our mission is and always has been to maintain the beauty, serenity, and attractiveness of Spearfish Canyon and to monitor and protect the water quality and flow of Spearfish Creek and its tributaries.”

Mark Nelson of VMC LLC, the partnership proposing the mining operation, addressed the commission with a 30-page presentation prior to the start of public comment.

Nelson maintained that Permit 416 is a valid state permit and that VMC LLC delivered its annual report for Permit 416 to the South Dakota Department of Environmental and Natural Resource’s Board of Minerals and Environment in September and that the state board considers the permit to be valid. He added the permit clearly addresses ore transportation on existing roads.

“In conclusion, what we’re proposing is a shallow quarry mine … it’s authorized by state Permit 416, it’s been validated by the state supreme court,” Nelson said, adding there will be no on-site mineral processing, that reclamation will maintain the natural character of the area, and that the proposal meets all requirements of county ordinance. “Ours is a temporary land use.”  

Brian Walsh, public affairs officer for the DENR confirmed that the state permit is valid and, “authorizes mining at the site, but not the removal of material from the site or chemical processing of ore,” he wrote in an email. “To make road improvements to remove material from the site, state law would require an additional mine permit to allow for the necessary reclamation and bonding assessments.”

The proposed mining site of the Deadwood Standard Project, a portion of which the boundary sits anywhere from 200 to 1,200 feet from the rim of Spearfish Canyon.

VMC has decided that onsite mineral processing is not practical, and processing will not be conducted onsite. This proposal requests county authorization to mine 870,000 tons of ore, consistent with state permit, which results in a smaller proposed disturbance area as compared to the 2012 proposal to Lawrence County.

The project area lies approximately seven miles west of Lead and one mile west of the Wharf Mine.

From Lead, the project area is accessed by paved highways 85 and 473 to the Wharf Mine and then by the Wharf Mine access road to an existing unpaved road that would be improved to serve as the Deadwood Standard Project access road.

The project area is located on a limestone plateau east of Spearfish Canyon within the Ragged Top mining district. The topography is flat to gently rolling

The permit boundary is based on a permit VMC holds with the state of South Dakota, which includes four zones.

Zone one is located on the north end of the project area. Its permit area is 2.9 acres and includes one small pit and an overburden stockpile.

Zone two is 4.1 acres and includes one pit, an overburden stockpile, and a topsoil stockpile.

Zone 3 is the largest permit area. It is 89 acres and includes 11 pits, three overburden stockpile, and five topsoil stockpiles.

Zone 4 is 25.6 acres and includes one pit, two overburden stockpiles, and a topsoil stockpile.

Overall, 14 pits would be excavated over the life of the mine, affecting a total area of 31 acres. The size of the individual pits ranges from one-half acre to 5.2 acres. Seven overburden stockpiles would be constructed over the life of the mine, affecting 18.2 acres, and eight topsoil stockpiles would be constructed affecting 8.2 acres.

The VMC CUP application states that mining disturbance at any one time during the operation would be approximately 10 acres.

The CUP originally made it through Lawrence County planning and zoning in 2012 and was considered by the county commission, which told the applicants to come back when their state mine permit was obtained.

The biggest issue at the time of the last permit request was the inclusion of an on-site enclosed vat leach mineral processing facility, which has since been scrapped, as mining principals proposed a plan to haul the ore out of the mine to be processed off-site.

Nelson explained previously that the proposed mine would consist of several small, shallow pits and overburden stockpile.

Vogt will request the county commission to set a public hearing regarding the application, unless VMC requests otherwise. The soonest the hearing could be held is Oct. 20.

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