An attorney opposing the proposed uranium mine near Edgemont told a state board Wednesday morning the company is giving conflicting information about its proposal.

Michael Hickey, who represents the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, told the state Water Management Board that Powertech Uranium Corp. has given conflicting information about how much uranium it would mine, how many jobs it would create and how much water it will need to operate.

"I think we're entitled to know what the true facts are, what the story is," Hickey told the board.

Hickey made the remarks in his opening statement in a contested case hearing held at the Best Western Ramkota in Rapid City over the company's request for state water permits. 

Because of the discrepancies, the company's application should be rejected as incomplete, Hickey said. The attorney made a similar argument against Powertech at last month's state Board of Minerals and Environment hearings regarding the company's mining permit. That hearing will resume in November.

The conflicting information comes from different statements the company has made and applications it has filed, as well as economic projections that the company has revised.

Powertech is asking the state to use up to 8,500 gallons of water per minute from the Inyan Kara aquifer. But in its application for an operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the company stated it would be operating at up to 4,000 gallons per minute.

The amount of uranium Powertech has indicated exists in the ore beds has also grown. In its 2008 briefing book, the company said it would recover 7.6 million pounds of uranium at the Dewey-Burdock site over 10 to 12 years. In its 2013 briefing book, Powertech says it estimates 11 million pounds or more of uranium could be mined over that time.

Powertech attorney Max Main in his opening statement Wednesday morning said the amount of uranium the company could actually recover would be around 8 million pounds.

Main accounted for the changes in his opening statement as the company periodically updating its projections.

Concerning the water use, Powertech Project Manager Mark Hollenbeck said that the company will likely amend its NRC permit sometime in the future to account for the larger amount it is requesting from the state.

"On the gallonage, we originally were going to operate half as large as we now intend to," said Hollenbeck, adding that the company "decided that if we were going to amend the NRC permit sometime in the future, we just might as we do it up front with the state of South Dakota."

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Powertech's briefing book from August 2013 states that the mine will have 84 full-time positions with up to 36 contract jobs. In his opening statement Wednesday, Main said the mine would fluctuate between 100 and 120 jobs, with up to 159 workers during construction. 

The proposed Dewey-Burdock project would be located about 15 miles northwest of Edgemont. It would use in-situ mining, a process where water is pumped into bodies of uranium ore to absorb the metal. The water would then be pumped back to the surface where the uranium would be extracted.

Opponents of the mine worry it will drain or pollute the region's aquifers or hurt the tourism industry. Proponents say it will bring jobs to the region and generate tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue.

Main told the board he will present evidence showing the project is safe and in the public interest. Diane Best, an attorney for the state representing the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the department will present a state hydrologist to testify that project is in the public interest and that water is available for the mine.

But the discussion of "what is available is based upon a lot of assumptions," attorney Bruce Ellison told the board.

Ellison, who represents the environmental group Clean Water Alliance, made that remark in his own opening statements.

The opening statements came after two days of testimony by members of the public involved less formally in the hearings. The hearings will resume at 8:30 a.m. today with John Mays, vice president of engineering for Powertech. Mays began his testimony Wednesday afternoon.

Contact Joe O'Sullivan at 394-8414 or joe.osullivan@rapidcityjournal.com

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