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The Board of Minerals and Environment on Thursday held a teleconference about Powertech's proposal for an 11,000-acre in situ mine roughly 15 miles north of Edgemont.

Journal file

Opponents of a proposed uranium mining operation in southwest South Dakota are attempting to rally support in Custer County, while an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board has delayed its decision on challenges to the mining operation.

Dakota Rural Action is hosting a public-information night starting at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Custer County Courthouse Annex. Presenters will include Lilias Jarding, who is familiar with uranium and natural resources issues; Ed Harvey, a former nuclear researcher; and Bruce Ellison, an attorney for the Clean Water Alliance.

Few people in Custer County understand that Azarga Uranium Corporation's Dewey-Burdock in situ uranium recovery operation extends into Custer County, according to Custer resident Juli Ames-Curtis. Ames-Curtis is also a member of Dakota Rural Action.

About half of the land at the Dewey-Burdock site is in Custer County, according to Jarding.

"It is important for the people in Custer County to understand what is proposed for the water and land," Jarding said. "We're concerned about water quality and water quantity."

Opposition to the in situ process, which uses water injected into the ground to extract uranium, is well organized in Fall River County, but not in Custer County, she said.

"No in situ uranium mine has ever been fully restored," Jarding said.

"People just don't have a clue about how it will impact their lives in this county," Ames-Curtis said.

Hong Kong-based Azarga Resources' merger with Colorado-based Powertech Uranium was completed last year. 

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board came to Rapid City in August 2014 for hearings on challenges to the permits the company received from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Following the August hearings, the licensing board had projected a decision by the end of 2014.

At the time of the August hearings, the company still was known as Powertech.

The board ordered Powertech to provide opponents access to information the company had purchased concerning prior uranium exploration done in the area.

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After reviewing the additional data and following an Environmental Protection Agency release of information on contamination from abandoned uranium mines in the area, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, one of the groups challenging Azarga's permit, asked that the new information be introduced into the record in November. The licensing board has not decided if the information will be accepted.

The licensing board closed the record on Dec. 9, but gave Azarga's and the OST's attorneys until Friday to submit briefs on the inclusion of the new information, according to Maureen Conley, a spokeswoman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C. 

"Then the parties have until Jan. 29 to file reply briefs," Conley said in an email to the Journal on Friday. "NRC attorneys expect the Jan. 29 briefs to be the final filing before the board rules on the admitted contentions."

Any decision by the board could be delayed further because Richard Cole, one of the three judges sitting on the licensing board, died in December, Conley said.

She estimated the board's decision would come in March.

Contact Andrea J. Cook at 394-8423 or andrea.cook@rapidcityjournal.com

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