RAPID CITY — Five days have passed since officials with the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment refused to place a Rapid City Council resolution expressing “grave concern” about Powertech USA’s controversial proposed uranium mine in the southern Black Hills on the public record at a state prehearing on the large-scale mining proposal, leaving city officials “baffled.” Emotions are still running high.
“How you can you even consider ignoring a resolution passed by the elected representatives of 67,000 people? It’s ludicrous,” said Rapid City Council President Jerry Wright.
Rapid City officials submitted a petition to intervene in Powetech’s large-scale mining permit application to the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Sept. 11, including with it a resolution passed by the Rapid City Council on Aug. 19 detailing the council’s belief that “the proposed in-situ mining of uranium in the Black Hills poses an unacceptable risk to the primary source of Rapid City’s drinking water.”
In a prepared statement released Wednesday afternoon, Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker addressed the Board of Minerals and Environment’s decision to withhold the city of Rapid City’s petition and resolution: “We are surprised the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment would so willingly silence the voices of the second largest city in the state.”
As of late Thursday afternoon, Kooiker and city council members were unaware of the official reason the city council’s petition and resolution were not allowed into public record.
Sara Rabern, media liaison for the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office told the Pioneer Wednesday evening that Prehearing Chairman Rex Haag determined Rapid City’s petition to intervene “was over six months late (the established intervention deadline and also the discovery deadlines) and only a week before the formal hearing itself begins. As a result it was held to be untimely, and was denied.” Rabern added that Hagg said officials from Rapid City could come to the large-scale mining permit hearing that starts Monday and give a statement during the public comment period.
The deadline for the petition to intervene into Powertech’s large scale mining permit was Feb. 19, and the discovery deadline was 45 days before the start of the initial hearings.
“I know we were late, we were definitely late, we recognized that when we filed it (the petition),” city of Rapid City assistant attorney Ryan Sove said. Sove added that the Rapid City Council specifically stated in their petition that they were not looking to interfere with the established hearing schedule, nor submit any of their own expert witnesses, but rather they simply wished for the city’s written position to be admitted to public record.
Sove said the petition was late because city officials never intended to intervene in Powertech’s application processes, but as the upcoming application hearings approached the mayor’s office and city council members received a significant increase in phone calls, letters and personal visits from Rapid City residents voicing concern over Powertech’s proposed uranium mine. It was at that point, after hearing from both proponents and opponents of the Dewey-Burdock project, that city officials decided to draft a resolution detailing the concerns of their constituents, which passed nine to one.
The city’s concerns involve Powertech’s plan to pump 551 gallons of water per minute from the Madison aquifer for use in the rehabilitation of the Inyan Kara aquifer, from which they’ll be extracting uranium through the in-situ recovery process. The Madison aquifer supplies Rapid City with the majority of its drinking water, as well as many other communities in the Black Hills and surrounding areas.
“We took this resolution on a vote of nine to one not carelessly, not without due consideration,” Wright said. “We heard from this group three times — I, the mayor and several other council members sat through the Powertech presentation with Mark Hollenbeck three times. And we didn’t stand up and say we were against uranium mining. We didn’t do that. We could’ve, but we didn’t, we’re just concerned about the water and the use of water.
“This is crazy what they’re doing. For them to just say, ‘sorry Rapid City, you’re too late,’ that’s just ridiculous,” Wright added. “Does the state not have an obligation to look out for the water resource of the state, or is their obligation to allow industry to do whatever the hell they want to do? Who do they work for? In a hearing you need to be fair to both sides.”
Rapid City officials have appealed the state board of Minerals and Environment’s decision to withhold the Rapid City Council’s petition and resolution from the public record in Powertech’s large-scale mining permit application hearing. That hearing begins at 10 a.m. Monday in Rapid City at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel and Conference Center and continues through Thursday, Sept. 26. On Friday the meeting will be continued at 8:30 a.m. at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in the Alpine Ponderosa Room.
All meetings are open to the public.