The dawning of a new year is traditionally a time for reflection, but it is also a good time to ponder the future.
In western South Dakota, many questions about what will come in 2013 are worth prognostication. Some include: Will we see more mining? Will development and growth continue? Will the local economy continue to benefit from the North Dakota oil boom? And will Sam Kooiker be mayor of Rapid City at the end of the year?
In the final segment of the Rapid City Journal's year-end coverage, we examine a few topics that are likely to make news in the coming year.
Gold and uranium mining may return
The hunt for gold and uranium — a search gone dormant or significantly slowed in recent years — could return with vigor in the Black Hills in 2013 as Canadian firms resume the search for valuable minerals beneath the ground. Exploratory wells searching for gold are being dug or already operating near Spearfish Canyon and in Keystone. Meanwhile, a proposal for an extensive in-situ uranium mine operation near Edgemont still requires permitting but is sure to create controversy throughout the year as residents raise concerns over water quality and usage at the mine site.
Drought and wildfires
The ongoing and devastating drought that enveloped South Dakota in 2013 is likely to continue, unless the region sees continued snowfalls during winter and a return of summer rains. If the drought that left 93 percent of the state in severe or worse drought conditions as of November continues through the coming year, the state's agriculture and tourism industries could further suffer. In addition, the dry conditions have turned forests into tinderboxes that could bring a return of the costly and dangerous wildfires that struck across the state last year. Could the holiday snowfalls seen in Rapid City be a good sign?
Civic center upgrade
Last July, the Rapid City Council unanimously endorsed a plan to spend as much as $150 million to add a 15,000- to 18,000-seat arena to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. The existing structure, built in 1977, is operating while in repair and does not comply with federal disabled accessibility laws, expansion backers say. Now, a new committee has been created to explore options and better inform the public about the proposal. A referendum on the project is likely at some point, but until then, using sales tax money to redo the facility or build new will remain a hot topic in Rapid in 2013.
Bakken oil impacts
Rapid City and much of western South Dakota could see increased financial benefits in 2013 from the ripple effects of the oil boom happening in the Bakken fields in North Dakota. Schools could see increased enrollment, local housing markets could benefit, and already jobs are popping up here to service the oil industry. Two plastics firms are being built, one in Belle Fourche and another in Rapid City, that could create 90 new jobs in the coming year. And if an oil opportunity meeting that drew 175 people to Rapid City in November is any indication, the economic spill-over from the oil boom may just be starting.
New development across the region
New buildings and businesses could arise with regularity in the Black Hills region in 2013. Tops among the proposals would be the Presidents Plaza, a $40 million, 15-story condo and office building that developer Hani Shafai says could break ground in downtown Rapid City in March if all comes together as planned. Beyond that, the city of Sturgis is seeking a plan to redevelop its downtown; the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology will get a new 111-unit apartment complex in 2013 and break ground on a new $7 million student recreation center; and ground will be broken in 2013 on a new hotel and expansion that will double the WaTiki Waterpark to 70,000 square feet in eastern Rapid City.
Rapid City mayoral election
Voters in June are likely to face a clear choice in who they want to serve as mayor. Though candidates won't officially file to run until March 26, it seems likely that incumbent Mayor Sam Kooiker, 38, will face a challenge from at least one of his colleagues on the city council. Kooiker, elected in 2011, has steamed up city hall with his aggressive hawking of city spending, his willingness to fight battles in public or in the media, and what his opponents describe as politically motivated maneuvering. Among others, one candidate may be council Vice President Charity Doyle, a frequent Kooiker critic. One aspect of the election seems certain: it won't be boring.
Uncertainty in Hot Springs
The tourism town of 3,600 people an hour south of Rapid City could face a devastating year in 2013 if the federal Veterans Administration follows through on controversial plans to close many of the VA hospital facilities there, costing the region jobs and economic spin-off. In addition, uncertainty has arisen over the fate of the Evans Plunge, the region's oldest tourism attraction. The facility is for sale, and if purchased by private interests and not the city, it could be closed to public use, further damaging the tourism economy of Hot Springs.