The fourth day of hearings Thursday over the proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mine boiled down to the distrust mining opponents have in the data Powertech is using to make the case for its mine.
The clearest example came Thursday evening, as a hydrologist for the company was testifying. Powertech attorney Max Main wanted to use written statements by a U.S. Geological Survey employee who did not see evidence of water moving between aquifers. The contention is important for both sides, as opponents argue that groundwater contaminated during mining could spread to an aquifer that is used to provide drinking water.
Powertech's opponents protested, calling it hearsay. Michael Hickey, an attorney for the Black Hills Horse Sanctuary, which is opposing the mine, said he tried to bring in the USGS employee Raymond Johnson to testify in person, but the USGS made it difficult.
Without Johnson at the proceedings, opponents said they couldn't question the data underlying his findings or conclusions.
"I want this report out. I want Mr. Johnson here," said Susan Henderson, an opponent of the mine.
"Unless you have evidence, that is a slander," said Powertech attorney Max Main, who implied that opponents were questioning Johnson's integrity. "You can't get away with it."
The conflicts built on objections Wednesday by opponents over Powertech's showing of its draft license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The proposed Dewey-Burdock mine, which would be about 15 miles northwest of Edgemont, would employ a method known as in situ. That means the company would inject oxygenated water into the ground to absorb uranium. The water would be pumped back to the surface, where the uranium would be extracted and processed.
Throughout public input and other testimony throughout the week, opponents railed against the project. Among other things, opponents worry that the project will pollute or drain the region's aquifers; that potential contamination could harm wildlife and livestock; and that the South Dakota Legislature's removal of state regulation may hinder oversight of the mine.
Mine proponents argue that it will bring jobs to the Edgemont area and tax revenue to the region and state. And the company says its science is sound, and that the mining can be conducted safely.
Mark Hollenbeck, project manager for the Dewey-Burdock project, said the opposition's tactics during the hearing prove their own weak case.
"I guess if they had a smoking gun, they certainly haven't shown it at this point," Hollenbeck said.
Powertech's hydrologist, Hal Demuth, will continue testifying on Friday morning.