HOT SPRINGS – “Uranium mining has been stopped before and it must be again,” said Dr. Lillias Jarding, one of a trio of speakers at a uranium mining public forum held Thursday night at the Hot Springs American Legion.
More than 150 people attended the session, also hearing from attorney Bruce Ellison and Charmaine White Face, coordinator of the Defenders of the Black Hills.
While Jarding discussed past issues and possible future problems associated with the in situ type of uranium mining being proposed by Powertech, Inc., north of Edgemont in Fall River and Custer Counties, it was White Face who made a startling declaration.
“You look at this picture and see the prairie,” White Face told the crowd as she gestured to a photo of the proposed mining site. “But I looked at this area and I see ancient burial sites. We found up to five spots in about a one-acre area.”
White Face asserted that during a visit to the site with Jarding and others, including officials from Powertech, that she had noted numerous Native American sites such as tepee rings, sweat rings and more.
“We have learned to stay quiet because we don’t want the sites disturbed,” she said. “We have so little trust for the federal government. Native gravesites have been exploited for generations,” White Face said. “That’s why our THPO (Tribal Historic Preservation Office) has opposed any mining at this site.”
Ellison, the counsel for the Clean Water Alliance based in Rapid City, talked about the legal issues of uranium mining. He said his group is in litigation with Cameco, the company operating an in situ uranium mining operation at Crow Butte, Neb. “We have been pursuing this company – a Canadian company like Powertech – for five years without a hearing. This is part of their history.”
Ellison also spoke about the pressure applied to the state legislature by Powertech, which he said led to the passage of Senate Bill 158 in the 2011 S.D. Legislature, taking away the oversight of in situ mining from the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
“Why?” Ellison asked rhetorically. “If they are going to do things the right way, if they will maintain the integrity of our drinking water and maintain the aquifers, why do they have to get the laws changed to relax the oversight?”
Ellison said that his organization is working to bring some of the state’s past laws – which have been sidelined – back into existence. “Colorado now has laws that are similar to what ours used to be,” he said. “Powertech tried getting permits in Colorado but couldn’t so they came here. They see us as suckers and easy marks.”
Ellison added that the hearings by the DENR on the two water permits requested by Powertech would take place West River, as would a hearing on the mining permit by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“We are trying to make sure that those hearings take place right here in Hot Springs,” he said. “We will have a wonderful opportunity to let our voices be heard.”
Jarding, Ellison and White Face all agreed that the continuation of uranium mining needed to be stopped, “for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.”