Croell Planning Commission Hearing (copy)

The room was nearly full for a Pennington County Planning Commission hearing in May on permits requested by Croell Inc. for a limestone mine.

A court victory by opponents of a limestone mine in Pennington County might not stop the mine but could have future ramifications for county government, parties to the litigation said Thursday.

The state Supreme Court published an opinion Thursday that voids a Pennington County zoning ordinance amendment. Yet the mining application that sparked the lawsuit has already been approved and could remain in force.

The Pennington County Commission granted two sets of permits to Croell Inc. in May for an expansion of the Perli Pit Quarry. The quarry is a limestone mine located 3.5 miles south of Rapid City along the west side of U.S. Highway 16, between Bear Country USA and the America’s Founding Fathers Exhibit.

The application for the expansion was controversial, for reasons including potential dangers to motorists from trucks entering and leaving the mine on the busy highway, and concerns about the mine becoming an eyesore along the route to Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

The two sets of permits allowed Croell to mine under the terms of a new zoning ordinance amendment that was adopted last year and also under the older version of the ordinance. The two sets of permits were sought because a lawsuit challenging the validity of the amended ordinance was under consideration by the state Supreme Court in May while county officials were considering Croell's applications.

In the opinion published Thursday, the state Supreme Court declared the county’s zoning ordinance amendment void because the county failed to give sufficient public notice of continued hearings about the amendment. The state Supreme Court’s opinion upheld an earlier ruling by Seventh Circuit Court Judge Jane Wipf Pfeifle.

Croell Inc. was not a party to the litigation, and its attorney, Thomas Brady, said Thursday in a phone interview with the Journal that the decision means nothing to the company. Whatever impact the state Supreme Court decision has on the new zoning ordinance amendment, Brady said, Croell still has the county’s permission to mine under the old ordinance language. Brady said the company “shall proceed accordingly.”

The legal challenge to the validity of the zoning ordinance amendment was filed in March 2018 by a group of citizen opponents to the Croell application, Duane Abata, Donald Burger and Barrett Wendt.

Abata acknowledged by phone Thursday that the group's victory in the state Supreme Court probably will not stop the Croell mine. But Abata speculated that the court's opinion could jeopardize other past county actions that were undertaken with a similar lack of sufficient public notification, and he predicted that further legal challenges could arise to capitalize on the opinion.

He said the opinion should be a wake-up call for county officials.

"This is not a hollow victory in the sense that the county has to realize now that they have to represent the people and not just their own self-interest," Abata said.

Attorneys for the county did not immediately respond to messages from the Journal.

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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