After the state of South Dakota has spent $40 million to create an underground science lab at the former Homestake gold mine in Lead, some people may question why Gov. Dennis Daugaard has included another $2 million for the lab in his proposed 2014 budget.
Ron Wheeler, director of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority, told the Journal editorial board that the money was necessary to replace steel in the Ross Shaft at the Sanford Underground Research Facility.
The steel used to support the hoist in the Ross Shaft, which is the main entrance to the lab, is more than 70 years old, he said. For safety reasons, the hoist is operated at one-quarter operating speed.
Wheeler said replacing the steel would allow the lab to make more trips and haul heavier equipment into the mine and remove rock more quickly for excavating chambers for experiments.
Wheeler told the Journal that, while the state has invested $30.2 million in building the lab, plus $10 million in indemnity bonding, the lab has brought about $261 million in external funding, about $115 million of which has been spent in South Dakota.
Wheeler said the state built the lab for two reasons: economic development and education.
"In terms of economic development, the lab has been a huge success," Wheeler said.
As an educational tool, more than 1,200 students have visited the lab, and about 500 teachers are in contact with experiments at the lab.
Mike Headley, Sanford Laboratory director, told the editorial board that, in addition to the 122 state employees at the Sanford lab, there are 15 research groups, with more than 1,000 scientists, assistants and graduate assistants, currently using the lab for various experiments at different levels in the former mine.
The governor's request for $1.9 million to launch a doctoral program in physics at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City and the University of South Dakota in Vermillion will give students the opportunity to study and work at a world-class facility at the Sanford lab.
Wheeler said the lab and universities will help create a skill pool that will attract technology companies to South Dakota.
The Sanford lab is already paying dividends to South Dakota, which we expect will grow as the lab itself expands.
The governor's spending request for the Sanford lab is a small investment in terms of the lab's still-developing potential as an economic development tool and educational resource. The Legislature needs to follow through and support the lab.