An emergency drill in Hot Springs has outraged opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline and a proposed uranium mine after it portrayed the groups as domestic terrorists.
Last Tuesday, the Hot Springs School District practiced a lockdown procedure after pretending to receive a letter from a group that wrote "things dear to everyone will be destroyed unless continuation of the Keystone pipeline and uranium mining is stopped immediately."
As part of the drill, the district's 800 students locked classroom doors, pulled down window shades and remained quiet. Meanwhile, Fall River County staff called a bomb squad to Hot Springs.
The school district and county have since been bombarded with emails and calls about the drill from people who felt it unfairly demonized opponents of Keystone XL and opponents of a proposed uranium mine near Edgemont.
Don Kelley, a farmer near Nemo who opposes both projects because he fears they may contaminate local groundwater supplies, said he and others want a formal apology from the county and the school district.
"The opponents are about as non-violent bunch of people as you can imagine," he said Thursday. "They are just plain concerned and have raised issues of the safety of both those projects."
Kelley said it was particularly concerning that children in Hot Springs were being taught to fear people who raise environmental and land-use concerns.
Lilias Jarding, a professor of environmental policy and a member of the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance, which opposes the proposed uranium mine, said no opposing group has ever threatened a school or intended to threaten a school.
"That's why this is so insulting to so many people in South Dakota," she said.
Don Marchant, the superintendent of Hot Springs School District, did not return repeated calls Thursday for comment.
Frank Maynard, emergency manager for Fall River County, said he did not know what was being used as the source of the threat for Tuesday's drill until after it was carried out. He said his focus was on the drill itself, rather than the fabricated threat.
Maynard said an outside group of citizens in South Dakota with a stake in emergency-management issues devised the scenario.
He said the group routinely assists emergency managers in preparing for drills but declined to identify any members of the group or where they are based.
"I'm not throwing anyone under the bus," he said.
Maynard said he has received many calls and emails from people who are upset about the drill. He said the organizers of the drill never intended to insult opponents of Keystone XL or uranium mining who, he agreed, had never threatened violence as far he was aware.
"It's something that will never happen again, because we will be a lot more selective on what we use," he said.
[This story has been changed to reflect a correction. Hot Springs School District conducted its mock drill on Tuesday, May 14.]