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More exploratory gold drilling planned in Black Hills forest

Four new plans of operation for exploratory gold drilling have been submitted to the Black Hills National Forest, according to a forest official.

Deputy Forest Supervisor Jerry Krueger declined to immediately release any specific details of the plans, such as the names of the companies, locations of the proposed drilling sites, or the proposed acreage of the drilling projects. He did say that all of the proposed projects are in the Mystic District, the most central of the four districts in the forest.

Krueger said the plans of operation are considered confidential for now, until they are formally accepted for review. After that happens — in about a month or so, Krueger estimated — a public review process will begin with opportunities for public comment and consultation with Native American tribes that have ties to the Black Hills.

“Given the controversy around mining, we’re going to make sure we dot our i’s and cross our t’s,” Krueger said.

In addition to the four newly submitted plans of operation, forest officials are still considering a plan of operation for exploratory gold drilling near Rochford that was submitted in late 2016 by Mineral Mountain Resources, a Canadian company with a South Dakota subsidiary of the same name.

Krueger said forest officials have decided to require an environmental assessment of the proposed Mineral Mountain project, and negotiations are under way to determine how the assessment will be funded.

Mineral Mountain’s plan of operations includes 21 proposed drilling sites on national forest land located 2 to 3 miles south of Rochford.

Meanwhile, on neighboring privately owned land, Mineral Mountain has already drilled at least nine exploratory holes since February. That drilling is authorized by an exploration notice of intent filed with the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, for as many as 10 holes at each of 12 drilling sites for a potential total of 120 holes.

The Rochford-area drilling has sparked protests and legal challenges from neighboring landowners, environmentalists, and Native Americans for whom the Black Hills hold spiritual significance.

In the latest challenge to Mineral Mountain, a group of individual opponents is seeking a declaratory ruling by the state Water Management Board that would essentially invalidate temporary water permits such as the one granted by the state to the company. The permit allows Mineral Mountain to withdraw free water from Rapid Creek, which the company uses to cool and lubricate its drill.

A hearing on the request for the declaratory ruling is scheduled for Dec. 5 in Pierre, but it is unclear what effect, if any, the outcome of the hearing will have on Mineral Mountain’s project. There has been no drilling since the project’s ninth hole was plugged with bentonite in September, and the company’s existing temporary water permit is scheduled to expire after Dec. 31.

The company has had multiple temporary permits to withdraw water from Rapid Creek. During a period when Mineral Mountain lacked a temporary water permit, the company purchased water from the city of Lead and had the water hauled to the drilling sites.

State officials have indicated that if Mineral Mountain wants to continue using water from Rapid Creek after the expiration of the company’s current temporary permit, the company might be directed to apply for a permanent water right. That would entail a lengthier consideration process with more opportunities for public comment.

The first nine exploratory holes drilled by Mineral Mountain into the rocky and forested terrain near Rochford averaged about 1,000 feet in length. In an Oct. 1 news release, Mineral Mountain President and CEO Nelson Baker said results from the first nine holes solidified the company's belief that it will find a significant gold deposit.

State and federal mining laws are permissive toward exploratory drilling. No permit is required. Drillers need only file a plan of operations for federal land and an exploration notice of intent with the state, after which federal and state regulators can place conditions and restrictions on the drilling but cannot summarily reject it.

Gary Haag, a geologist with the Black Hills National Forest, has said of the Mineral Mountain plan of operations, “There isn’t an option to turn it down.”

If Mineral Mountain or any other company decides to pursue the opening of a gold mine, permits would be required.

Gold mining has occurred in the Black Hills since the 1870s. Currently, the region’s only active, large-scale gold mine is the Wharf Mine near Terry Peak and Lead, where $125.9 million worth of gold and silver were mined last year.

At the abandoned Gilt Edge Mine about 5 miles southeast of Lead, which has been the site of an EPA Superfund environmental cleanup for nearly two decades, EPA officials recently decided to allow a Canadian company, Agnico Eagle Mines, to drill up to 18 holes in search of the source of cadmium contamination showing up in Strawberry Creek. During the drilling, Agnico will be allowed to take core samples to help the company decide whether it will seek permission to re-open the mine.

The increased exploratory drilling activity in the Black Hills is part of a global trend, according to a “World Exploration Trends” report published in March by S&P Global Market Intelligence. The report said global spending on the search for nonferrous metals rose to an estimated $8.4 billion in 2017 compared to $7.3 billion in 2016.

The report cited greater support from investors for exploratory projects and a generally positive trend in metals prices as reasons for the increased spending. For 2018, the report predicted a 15 to 20 percent increase in global exploration spending.

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Five we’re thankful for
Five We're Thankful For: Volunteer can't say 'no' to a worthy cause

Editor's note: Five We're Thankful For is a series of five articles profiling people who are doing good for our community. This is the fourth in that series. 

Bianca Boll will readily admit it. She has an innate inability to say "no" to a worthy cause.

“I have a lot of trouble with saying 'yes' to everything,” said Boll, 46, an electrical engineer for Black Hills Energy during the day and involved with her husband, Dan, in numerous community activities in their off-hours.

Bianca and Dan are involved in volunteer programs partly because of their son Josh, 21, and his participation with Black Hills Works, which serves developmentally disabled and special-needs people in Rapid City and throughout the Black Hills.

She and Dan are parent volunteers with the Out and About program, which takes people served through Black Hills Works to community events, such as Rapid City Rush hockey games, shopping trips or nights at the movies.

Josh, 21, recently became able to participate in Black Hills Works’ adult services programs, including Out and About, Bianca said.

“We’ve been trying to get him on that list for a while, and when we finally get him on, the first question they ask is ‘Could you help us out?’” Bianca said.

Of course, the answer was "yes."

Bianca and Dan offer three nights per month volunteering to help with Out and About. For now, their participation coincides with events where Josh is involved as they learn the ropes of the program, which is, as the name implies, keeping people served by Black Hills Works active in the community and dependent on volunteers.

“They do a little bit of everything. They just try to imagine, what would other adults be doing for fun and how can we get our people back out in the community doing those same things,” Bianca explained.

“It’s important for us to volunteer because it means there are more opportunities for people like our son to go out,” she said.

Bianca is also a volunteer with Our Camp, a summer camp for people with disabilities, helping them experience outdoor activities, including campfires, hiking, fishing and arts and crafts. She used her previous experience with Camp Friendship in the Black Hills, where she served as program director and was also a nursing assistant for several years.

She and Dan also volunteer with The Officials, an organization whose members usher at Civic Center events to raise funds for the South Dakota Athletic Association.

And if that isn’t enough, Bianca also serves as area director for Toastmasters, overseeing and providing training for Rapid City and Wall Toastmaster clubs.

Bianca is from Rapid City, graduating from Rapid City Central High School in 1990. She received her degree in electrical engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in 2015.

“I’m a late bloomer,” she said.

In her three years at Black Hills Energy, Bianca has become known throughout the company as someone who gets involved, serving on numerous committees and helping with employee activities.

The company took notice and this fall awarded her the Black Hills Energy Chairman’s Award for her leadership, dedication and community service. Boll was one of 110 nominated company-wide and the only South Dakotan among the six winners.

Boll recalled hearing of the award when she first started at Black Hills Energy and hoped she might be worthy of it someday.

“And when I got it you could have pushed me over with a feather, because I really did not expect it at that time,” she said. “I’m still a little flabbergasted. I’m totally, deeply honored.”

Black Hills Energy senior program manager Val Simpson said Boll often does things that people don’t expect.

About a year-and-a-half ago, someone began leaving intricately designed and cut paper snowflakes anonymously on desks throughout the company as a holiday gift.

“It took me months to finally figure out it was her,” Simpson said. “It doesn’t surprise me because of the things she does out in the community.”

Boll said her willingness to chip in, both at work and in the community, brings her as much return benefit.

“It’s not that I’m a glutton for punishment or trying to impress everyone else. It’s because we believe in that value of giving back,” she said.

“The reason I do that is that it gives right back,” she said. “It re-energizes and re-inspires me. It gives me more than what I give to those things — by far.

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A Cancer Story: Thanksgiving

Editor’s note: This is the tenth in a series of columns by former Journal columnist David Rooks, who is now getting treatment for esophageal cancer.

Thanksgiving, a few days from December, was also a few degrees below 60. For that we were thankful. This year an impressive portion of our family gathered at my brother Mike and his wife Sue’s country home near Oral, South Dakota.

The mood was light and calm. There was, of course, roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green bean casserole, et cetera — even roast buffalo and a separate table full of desserts. We began with a prayer of thankfulness for those here, elsewhere, living and remembered, all loved and recalled with gratitude.

Sometime recently, I know not exactly when, I gained the status of a family elder and was offered a spot near the front of the line. Instead, in the natural afternoon light of my brother and sister-in-law’s living room, I chose to sit and consider how, from a happenstance tinier than a mustard seed, all the myriad energies of life had come to be gathered in that room.

That mustard seed was the chance meeting between my mother and father at the Sun Devil Inn, a diner on the Arizona State University campus, in 1945. My mother, all of 20, managed the restaurant; my father, a 22-year-old freshman English major and Marine Corps veteran, was — to borrow his phrase — “immediately and hopelessly smitten.” There was just something about that redhead.

Last Thursday, 73 years later, many of the fruits of that encounter gathered by the dozens. My daughter Jessica and her husband Matt, and kids, were up from Ponca City, Okla. My daughter Jenny was in from college in Minneapolis, Minn. From 18-month-old grandson, Cade, to my 80-year-old cowboy cousin, Chubb, dignity and light intermingled. I took all this in from my perch with a view.

It drew a quiet smile.

“I am a part of all that I have met,” declares Ulysses in Tennyson’s great poem. And it’s true, a part of each of us is the sum of our memories and experiences. The other 99 percent resides in our hearts and is not a sum: rather, it is the foliage of the love we gain for each other and our Father in heaven. This gift grows in the field of our allotted time.

But as for that, as for my time allotted, I have no complaints. Instead, I am thankful.

Let me explain: For several years now, when able, I meet with a handful of Christian men on Saturday mornings at Blessed Sacrament Church. Over coffee and rolls we share how our individual walks with the good Lord Jesus have been over the past week. A few years back, one of the men shared that he prayed with the daily obituaries in the newspaper. This seemed like a good idea: that, even in prayer, charity should begin at home.

Over time, holding up the names of the recently deceased each morning made me used to thoughts of mortality. I noticed the ages of the newly departed; as often as not, they were near mine or younger. I became inured to the knowledge that, statistically speaking, I’ve had a decent run. This past Thanksgiving, surrounded by laughter and life, I was thankful for the time I’ve been given.

During my morning prayers for the recent losses in our community. I pray as well for their families and friends in their time of grief. Though well-disguised, daily tragedies and suffering are ordinary facts in our community. My experience with cancer these past months makes me realize no one is exempt: including, perhaps especially, myself. Knowing this puts a deeper patina of beauty upon life.

I imagine this Thanksgiving has been bittersweet for the families of those I have read and prayed for this past year. Because our memories are scented and shaped by love, they bear the deeper thorns of recent and painful reality. Death is an absence that only heals slowly. As wonderful as Thursday was, I missed my brother, James, and my sister, Deb. I missed Mom and Dad, too.

Still, in that afternoon room in my brother’s home I saw the smiles and heard the laughter of  my grandchildren. I noted that my youngest, Michael, though just turned 16, is nearly 6 feet tall. I thought with pride how my daughter, Sarah, graduates from nursing school this Spring. And I marveled at how my wife, Sandi, seen for a moment through a window in the front yard, is as lovely as the day we met …

I am richly blessed, and I give thanksgiving for that. I am grateful, too, for the future and whatever it brings. Hopeful, because my experience is that our loving God saves the best for last. Once again, I borrow from Tennyson’s Ulysses:   

                                    “… Come, my friends,

                                     'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

                                      Push off, and sitting well in order smite

                                      The sounding furrows …”

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South Dakota nurses rank 51st in average pay

The nursing industry is under pressure in South Dakota as an aging population, fewer nursing students and an older workforce are combining to create staffing shortages.

But the state has an added challenge in filling open nursing positions — pay. National nursing studies show RNs in South Dakota earn less than their counterparts across the nation.

According to the American Nurses Association, South Dakota’s registered nurses have the lowest annual salary of any state and the District of Columbia, ranking 51st behind Mississippi, Alabama and Iowa.

The association reports that South Dakota’s 12,530 registered nurses received an average annual salary of $57,010, or $27.41 per hour. California’s RNs posted the highest compensation at $102,700, $49.37 per hour.

Health care officials say many factors contribute to South Dakota’s comparatively poor compensation levels for nursing, including the rural nature of the state, as well as low reimbursement rates to hospitals from Medicare, Medicaid and Indian Health Services.

Still, they are at a loss to explain why those same factors are not at play to the same extent in surrounding states.

While the average RN salary in Iowa is comparable at $57,930, Nebraska nurses receive an average of $62,210 per year. North Dakota nurses make $63,140 annually, and, in Minnesota, nurses earn $77,540 per year, the association reports.

In South Dakota, the number of nurses joining the work force — either as recent graduates or transferring from another state — has not kept pace with the number leaving in recent years. In 2016, the net loss was 1,738. That was up substantially from the 930 net loss the year before, according to the South Dakota Department of Health’s Board of Nursing.

Nurses leave the profession due to retirement, a change of career or a move out of state. Some simply choose not to renew their RN licenses.

Compounding the shortages, enrollment in South Dakota’s eight nursing programs has declined in recent years.

According to the South Dakota Board of Nursing’s 2017 report on nursing education programs, last year a total of 308 LPNs and 306 associate degree RNs were enrolled in colleges and universities, a decrease of 103 students from the previous year. A total of 710 students graduated from the LPN and RN programs in 2017, 67 less than in 2016, the report stated.

While reasonable tuition rates for South Dakota’s nursing schools are attracting out-of-state students, Carrie Clausen-Hanson, a board member of the South Dakota Nurses Association, said low pay makes it difficult to draw faculty and accounts for some of the declining enrollment numbers in the state.

“Faculty pay, teacher’s pay, nursing pay, there is not a lot of difference,” she said. “Part of why we have trouble with enrollments in our nursing schools is they can’t find faculty. And a lot of it is due to pay.”

Clausen-Hanson, who worked as a registered nurse in South Dakota for 35 years and taught at Presentation College, said many of her students who graduated with associate’s degrees in nursing were landing jobs that paid more than her faculty position.

Nationally, nursing school enrollments also are being limited by a lack of qualified faculty and budget restraints. Almost two-thirds of the nursing schools responding to an American Association of Colleges of Nursing survey cited a shortage of faculty and/or clinical preceptors as a limiting factor for increasing enrollment.

AACN reported a 3.6 percent enrollment increase in entry-level baccalaureate programs in nursing in 2016. This increase is not sufficient to meet the projected demand for nursing services, including the need for more nurse faculty, researchers and primary care providers.

Nursing shortages will grow

As the chief nursing officer of Regional Health, Lori Wightman oversees 1,200 registered and licensed practical nurses at the organization’s flagship hospital in Rapid City, as well as hospitals in Sturgis, Deadwood, Custer and Spearfish, and facilities in Newcastle and Upton, Wyo.

Regional Health faces the same challenge from the nursing shortage as hospitals in other parts of the country.

“I would be lying if I said we didn’t,” Wightman, who has worked as an RN for 28 years. “The last figure I saw was a 1.13 million shortfall in nurses by 2025.”

She points to the increase in demand for nursing care from the large number of aging Baby Boomers as one contributor to the problem. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by 2050, the number of residents age 65 and over is projected to be 83.7 million, almost double the estimated population of 43.1 million in 2012.

With larger numbers of older adults, there will be an increased need for geriatric care, including care for individuals with chronic diseases.

“South Dakota is not immune to that national shortage,” Wightman said.

In addition, more nurses are approaching retirement age. More than 1 million RNs will reach retirement age in the next 10-15 years, according to the Health Services Administration. Currently, the average age of nurses in the U.S. is 47.

Before she joined Regional Health three years ago, Wightman said the organization had a turnover of more than a third of its workforce in one year, leaving “a big gap to fill.”

Through a variety of recruitment and retention efforts, Regional has been able to reduce what then were 200 vacancies in nursing positions to 186 open spots today.

“We currently are having a fairly successful time in recruiting nurses,” she said. Over the last 11 months, Wightman said Regional Health had hired 356 nurses using three pipelines of candidates to address the shortage.

Among those efforts are local collaborations with high schools, colleges and universities to increase interest in the profession; a national recruitment campaign Wightman admits, “has not been very fruitful,” due to the nationwide demand for nurses, and in recent years, an international recruitment program that has been more successful.

“We currently have 75 nurses who were recruited internationally and are working in our system,” she noted. “In the Philippines alone, there are over 200,000 nurses looking for jobs in the United States. They are investing in their education. They are developing nurses, doctors and all kinds of professionals and they benefit with foreign dollars flowing back to their country. They are eager to come to work for us.”

Staying home

Clausen-Hanson said the state's low pay rate for nurses is in part a reflection of how residents value the profession.

“It’s similar to our teachers. Many people don’t necessarily understand the work nurses do and so many of our nurses were born and raised in South Dakota and don’t want to work anywhere else,” she said.

When nursing graduates join the work force, particularly in more rural settings, many have family ties that keep them close to home and lead them to accept positions that may pay below industry norms, Clausen-Hanson said.

“Employers often look at the pay scale and the market and if they can pay you less, they will,” she said. “Some people have the approach that they will settle for that pay. Nurses get better pay than a lot of folks, so they settle. Everybody has their different reasons. But, part of it is just our environment, the way we are in South Dakota.”

Wightman contends that national statistics ranking South Dakota last in nursing pay may be misleading.

Regional Health offers other incentives that make pay scales more competitive for nurses, including financial assistance as nurses earn their bachelor’s degrees, loan forgiveness, with the employer helping pay off student debt in exchange for service, and bonus incentives.

“We will never compete with California, Florida or even Texas because we are a rural state and we don’t have the reimbursement structure that supports high pay,” Wightman said. “But we are trying to have a fair base pay and add bonuses and rewards. We want to promote growth, development and engagement in the community. We don’t want it to be solely about their base pay.”

Wightman said South Dakota ranks high in offering a safe and stable working environment and a lifestyle that attracts people to the medical profession.

“People are interested in coming to work in South Dakota and enjoying the lifestyle we have here,” she noted. “They might not make the money, but they have a quality work environment where they really enjoy the work.”

And, despite South Dakota’s low pay for nurses, Clausen-Hanson said, many are willing to take jobs here because they want to work in a safe environment.

“There are places where safety is an issue due to the environment and nursing shortages,” Clause-Hanson said. “You may be making 50 bucks an hour, but it’s really not worth it when you and your patients are at risk.”

In addition, the rural nature of the state presents challenges for medical professionals and opportunities to make a critical difference in patient’s lives, Wightman said.

“I think South Dakota has a vulnerable population with people spread out for hundreds of miles and many chronic illnesses,” she said.” There are many opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives, to meeting a personal mission of caring for other people.”

Changing the game

Universities, health care systems, social service agencies and communities have banded together to try to address the challenge of attracting nurses to the state.

In July, the federal government provided a $100,000 network planning grant to South Dakota State University, the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine, Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board and Catholic Social Services Rapid City to partner in a study of health care workforce shortages on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The project, “Assessing Pine Ridge’s Health Care Workforce Current and Future Needs,” aims to conduct a health care workforce needs assessment of Pine Ridge’s professional and nonprofessional health care (Indian Health Services and tribal) vacancies. The ban will also fund a health care workforce needs summit for tribes and provide tools to assist them in gauging and meeting their workforce needs.

And in mid-August, after 18 months of studies, the Huron Community Campus cut the ribbon on a new nursing program aimed at addressing a serious shortfall in qualified nurses in the Huron area.

“When our nursing task force came together, we came up with 46 open nursing positions in Huron and the surrounding area,” said Doug Pietz, executive director of the Huron Community Campus. “One question was why are we not getting nurses? Was it a lack of interest in nursing? But students were interested in moving up the chain from LPNs to RNs. They couldn’t travel to enroll in other nursing programs in the state. The best alternative was to bring the nursing program to them.”

With a $1.3 million investment, largely from the Huron University Foundation, the Huron Regional Medical Foundation and the City of Huron, Pietz said his institution partnered with Southeast Area Technical Institute in Sioux Falls, which has an accredited nursing program.

The 12-month program is offered to licensed practical nurses who have 750 hours of experience and are seeking to earn their associate’s degree as a registered nurse. Seven individuals signed up for the inaugural class, he said.

“Nursing is critical to the Huron area,” Pietz said. “Obviously, nursing is critical to all rural areas. This program represents a home-grown effort to provide educated nurses for all of the health care providers in town, as well as in the Huron area.”