Editorial: Feds should share airport study

The city of Spearfish wants to do the right thing concerning placement of a proposed new runway at its Black Hills Airport-Clyde Ice Field, but the federal government has made the process a guessing game.

Federal Aviation Administration officials say a study found that there are at least 80 sites of cultural significance in the location of the city’s proposed crosswind runway, but what those sites are or exactly where they are remains a secret. 

The city has been told that it is the position of the FAA that the study revealing the significance is a process between two nations (the U.S. government and Tribal Nations) and the city is not entitled to a copy of the study nor its content.

Wait! What?

The city must now halt the process on its preferred alternative for a new runway, and is being directed to embark on creating a plan for a second location hundreds of feet away from the original without being privy to any of the things that cannot be mitigated.

We understand there are culturally sensitive areas in the Black Hills.  

Leonard Little Finger may have said it best. He wrote at culturalsurvival.org that the Black Hills is a sacred grandmother to the Native Americans filled with sacred power sites.

Little Finger, who died in 2017, was a respected Lakota elder and the founder-director of Sacred Hoop School, a Lakota language school in Oglala.

We are confident that Spearfish leaders want to proceed with caution and would not want to disturb areas of significance to Native Americans. 

The city has discussed its concerns with elected representatives, sent formal correspondence to the FAA, and met with representatives from the FAA to discuss concerns.

Spearfish can’t proceed without knowing all there is to know about this land. 

The Black Hills Pioneer has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking answers that the FAA refuses to provide to the city. We believe the studies are public information.

We urge the federal government to allow Spearfish officials and all to see this cultural assessment of the proposed construction area before embarking on another study that may end in the same result at an alternate runway location. 

The federal government is funded by the public and is required to provide information to the public, which in this case includes the city of Spearfish, in an open manner. 

Editorial board,

Black Hills Pioneer

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(1) comment


Over the weekend, I read your paper’s editorial “Feds Should Share Airport Study,” and it has prompted me to offer you some background information on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) study involving a proposed runway at the Black Hills Airport. In this instance, the FAA is following procedures set forth in the National Historic Preservation Act put in place by Congress in 1966 (https://www.nps.gov/history/local-law/nhpa1966.htm). Specifically, Section 304 of the Act states that information should not be publicly disclosed to the public if it could  result in damage to historic property,  result in a significant invasion of privacy,  or may impede the use of a traditional religious site by practitioners. Because one or all of these criteria are possible, the FAA is following the guidelines put forth by Congress and is not disclosing the specific locations of the historic properties nor the nature of the property in order to protect it and the affected Native American tribes. In addition, the airport’s consultants have been involved in the runway placement study and in the recognition and location of the historic properties on the proposed runway site. They have sufficient information to proceed with analyzing an alternative runway site. Tony Molinaro FAA Public Affairs Officer Great Lakes & Central Regions

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