The proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mine cleared a key regulatory hurdle Thursday when a federal agency issued a favorable environmental assessment of the project.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said its final supplemental environmental impact statement found there is nothing that would preclude licensing the proposed mine near Edgemont in Fall River County.

The report said the project by Powertech Uranium would generally have small impacts on the area's soil, water, air and economy. In addition, an estimated workforce of 86 during construction and two fewer once the mine begins operating would have limited impact on local housing, the employment rate, schools and other services, it said.

However, the NRC said it will not issue a license until completion of a review of the proposed mine's impact on historical and cultural resources. An NRC board also will hold public hearings this year to get comments from area residents.

In addition, the project needs approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and two state boards, which have suspended their hearings on Powertech's permits until the federal agencies make their rulings.

A Powertech spokesman said Thursday the NRC's approval vindicated the project.

"This is a substantial milestone," said Mark Hollenbeck, the project manager. "This has absolutely validated everything we've been saying. This is a good, safe project that will bring good-paying jobs."

The Clean Water Alliance, a regional group opposing the mine, called the federal report "substantially deficient" in a news release.

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Opponents of the mine contend it would pollute local water supplies, use too much water from regional aquifers and open the door to more uranium projects in the Black Hills.

“This document is far from the final word on the proposed project," Clean Water Alliance member Lilias Jarding said in the statement. "Even if everything goes the way of the uranium company, this project is years from starting. We must do everything we can to protect our water.”

The proposed Dewey-Burdock mine, which would be about 15 miles northwest of Edgemont, would use in-situ mining — a process where oxygenated water is injected into the ground to absorb uranium. The water is then pumped back to the surface, where the uranium would be extracted and processed.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Contact Joe O'Sullivan at 394-8414 or joe.osullivan@rapidcityjournal.com

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