HOT SPRINGS – On a gray Wednesday when a little mni wichoni (Lakota for life-giving water) was falling from the skies, a group of about 40 protesters marched from Centennial Park to the Mueller Center shouting “Mni Wichoni, water is life,” and “No uranium mining in the Black Hills,” along the way.
The protesters – including Sarah Peterson and Mary Helen Pederson, from the local group, It’s All About the Water, as well as a contingent of Oglala Lakota elders, children and adults from Pine Ridge, Rapid City and other locations, along with a veterans group, all part of the Clean Water Alliance of the Black Hills – were concerned about the threats they believe AzaragaUranium/Powertech’s plans for the Dewey Burdock in situ leaching uranium mining project will bring to the area, particularly the dry region’s water resources.
After praying, the contingent descended on the Mueller Center to share their concerns about the project with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at the fourth of five scheduled public hearings EPA would hold on the company’s plans and the two draft permits the agency has issued to Azarga/Powertech, along with the Clean Water Act exemption the one permit will require.
Azarga/Powertech wants to receive two final permits from EPA that would be another step forward for the company to begin its Dewey Burdock project:
• One permit would be a Class III Underground Injection Control (UIC) permit. This would allow Azarga/Powertech to drill some 4,000 injection wells that would be used to mine the uranium the company says is in Dewey Burdock. In situ mining involves injecting a solution of groundwater mixed with extra oxygen and carbon dioxide into uranium deposits. This dissolves uranium in the rock underground. The slurry is then pumped back up to the surface, the uranium removed, then “recycled” by sending it back into the ground to dissolve more uranium again and again and again.
• The second permit would be a Class V UIC permit for four deep injection wells that will be used to dispose of waste fluids from the in situ process. These fluids would be pumped into the Minneluse aquifer formation after treatment to meet radioactive and hazardous waste standards.
• In order to do the Class III permit, EPA proposes an aquifer exemption from the Clean Water Act for the Inyan Kara group of aquifers.
The protesters were not alone in their concerns.
Three city council members and a number of local citizens spoke against the project, while only two were for it during the 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. period.
Those speaking against the project included:
• Dr. Peter and Cathy Sotherland, who lived in Edgemont during the 1980s, said contamination of the Minnelusa aquifer and the economic viability of nuclear fission—especially since two Toshiba southern U.S. power plants had been shut down due to cost overruns—negated uranium in their mind. They also pointed to Three Mile Island, the Fukushima disaster, the price of solar and wind renewable energy dropping, while the price of uranium remains unprofitable to mine as reasons against the project. Peter said that what Azarga/Powertech wants to put in disposal wells was “deleterious to life.” He noted how Powertech’s Mark Hollenbeck said he would drink this waste product because it was treated, and recalled a college friend who volunteered to drink the treated water from a sewage plant, but ended up in hospital with his stomach pumped, lots of antibiotics to combat problems. Cathy talked about how the remnants of previous mines from the 1950s-70s need to be cleaned up, still jeopardize the water supply. She recalled tailings plumes blowing into town, and called the state and EPA, who told them South Dakota’s lax environmental policies negated doing anything.
• Rancher John Sides of the Fall River County Conservation District said the district was “strongly opposed to injection wells.” The district board is obligated to protect the land, air and water quality, so they offered a resolution against the project. “These wells could have devastating effect on livestock and the economy,” Sides said, noting that 125 wells that support people and livestock get their water from on aquifers Azarga/Powertech wants to use. “It would turn communities into ghost towns and ranches into wastelands,” he said.
• Kara Hagen, Christa Spillane and Georgia Holmes, speaking for the city spoke out against the proposal. They reiterated the city’s recent resolution to protect water, which was signed by seven of eight aldermen. Holmes also called the project impractical and extremely dangerous, talking about how the city, the county, the company and the EPA don’t have enough money to do a clean up if things go wrong, and concerns about the faults involved in the geology of the region.
• Paul Wheeler, an amateur geologist, who said he spent the last 30 years roaming the Black Hills, talked about a large number of faults in the Dewey Burdock area (one 5.5 mile-long fault is very close to the site) and the Black Hills in general. Azarga/Powetech’s plans would be “extremely dangerous” due to the faults that could affect where the injection wells will pump waste. Waste pumped into the folded Inyan Kara, could connect with other aquifers. Before a breach of the aquifer could be detected, he said, the waste could reach other uintended aquifers. “This is ridiculous and irresponsible,” he said.
• Gardner Gray of Pringle pointed out how there is no market for uranium; how Platinum Partners’s (a major Azarga investor) ethics misdeeds resulting in a number of high-ranking company officials arrested, and how he believes Azarga/Powertech plans to use the wells for toxic waste disposal rather than uranium mining. “You cannot deny the threats (to water),” he told the EPA, “the permit would allows this, and profit demands it.”
• Robert Lafferty of Pine Ridge wanted to know who really owns Azarga Uranium/Powertech, the Chinese, the Canadian base, the Denver office. He worried about about sulfates, radium and other issues.
• Ed Harvey, of Hot Springs, pointed out how all of the aquifer the project intends to use are used for drinking water for people and livestock, which should negate the project under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Harvey also lamented how the 7,500 previous bore holes remain unsealed, how flow data is inconsistent, how driller notes show the potential for waste entering cave systems – including Wind Cave and Jewel Cave, a National Park and Monument. “There is no need for this,” he said. “Is the waste contained, it’s not guaranteed? Will EPA be responsible for the damage? Test wells? Bond for water? Karma will play a hand, when ag products grown here will be on supermarket shelves.”
• Patricia Shirey, a Hot Springs resident, and 2011-12 state legislator, said Hollenbeck is wrong about it being safe. “It has hazardous radiation, toxic waste, it harms wildlife and people,” she said. “You can’t return the water to baseline if it is used for waste. Uranium mining is not safe. Only a small number of short term jobs created by this.”
• Marlene Aktar talked about how, 15 years ago, her home’s 640 foot-deep well as state-tested, and she was told it was some of the best water around. “We all live on this big blue marble. Those for uranium mining are for the money, those against are for the future,” she said.
• Edgemont rancher Susan Henderson, talked about the 200 open pit mines holes remaining from previous Dewey Burdock uranium mining, how toxic chemicals drain into Pass Creek, Beaver Creek, the Cheyenne River, Angostura Reservoir and on downstream. “These arsenic-laden holes are a mile across, and 90 feet deep, and kills any wildlife that gets into it,” she said. “This is a disaster waiting to happen,” noting fissures, 2,500 currently used wells being affected, including her own Inyan Kara aquifer well. “Without wells, there is no ranching,” she said. “And you don’t get another chance for fix things, there’s no going back if mistakes are made. With 7,600 bore holes, the geology of the areas looks like swiss cheese. This will destroy ranches and farms. 60 percent of all tax money in county comes from ag. It will make a mess of tourism. I can find Washington.”
• Uriah Luallin and Rajni Lehrman of Hot Springs spoke of grave concerns about their Minnelusa well. “We’ve already suffered at the hands of foreign corporations that left cleanup to taxpayer,” Luallin said. “I’m asking the application be denied.” Lehrman said she came here for the beauty, peace and contentment of the clean air and water in the region, it was their retirement place, with a pure well that enabled she and Uriah to grow organic vegetables on their 2-acre lot. Would EPA or Azarga/Powertech provide drinking water? Reimburse the city for economic losses? Protect public access to clean water? No permit should be issued.
Meanwhile, only two people spoke in favor of the project in Hot Springs between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m: Mark Hollenbeck, of Powertech, and County Commissioner Paul Nabholz.
• Hollenbeck, the principle local driver of the project, talked about his long family history in Edgemont, how he raises organic cattle on his ranch there. What drew him to the project, he said, was looking at the footprint of all of the energy resources and concluding that nuclear power had the gentlest footprint on the land. He learned as a rancher that having a light footprint was critical to sustainability. His training as a chemical engineer also tells him that the science on this project is correct, it will be safe and offer the community economic benefits. Other power sources, such as solar, rely on things like rare earth from China, for solar panels; or coal which results in strip mines and more carbon and ash waste. He pointed to many detractor misconceptions about the project, saying it isn’t at all like fracking, water use will be less than 8,000 gallons per minute thanks to recycling of water used, and water quality of the Minnelusa on the east side of the Black Hills is good, but in Edgemont, its oil and salt. Hollenbeck volunteered to talk to people about the project to clear up misconceptions.
• Nabholz said he supported the project for basically the same reasons. He said his 580 foot deep Inyan Kara well would remain safe and he would drink from it. Waste disposal underground would be cleaner than using a center pivot irrigation system to apply it above ground – the only other approved disposal method.
EDGEMONT – The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) five hearings on the proposed Azarga Uranium/Powertech Dewey Burdock uranium mining project ended in Edgemont Thursday evening, May 11, at St. James church, with both local support for the project and appeals for the EPA to do the right thing by people who could be affected by uranium mining. During the final hours of the hearing, from 6 – 8 p.m., about 25 people shared their ideas and information with representatives of the EPA on the proposed mining project.
Of these 25, seven speakers – all of them Edgemont residents – said they supported the project and trusted the people who were behind it. According to one audience member who had been listening to the hearings since their beginning, at 1 p.m., more “positive” comments were shared earlier in the day, during the 2 – 5 p.m. comment period.
The remaining 18 speakers were against the proposed in situ mining effort, citing potential issues with water quality and contamination issues, waste disposal problems, the long and sorted history of uranium mining in Edgemont, problems with the Crawford, Neb. Crow Butte uranium mine, and how the Black Hills, by U.S. treaty, still belongs to the Lakota Oyate (nation).
When all the talking was done, shortly after 8 p.m., EPA Administrative Judge Elena Sutton promised that EPA would be “thoughtful in determining how to move forward.
For the project
Those for the project said they believe in the science Azarga/Powertech has offered as evidence the project is safe and would offer Edgemont some economic growth.
• Three ranchers supported the project: John Putnam, whose land is smack-dab in the middle of the project voiced support. Putnam’s great grandfather began the family legacy there 120 years ago, he said, and his is one of the two families who live directly in the mine area. “I depend on good water to ranch,” Putnam said, “and if anyone is at risk, it’s us. I rule on the side of science, not emotion.” Putnam also offered a letter of support for the project from Argentine Township. Miles Engelbert, a young Dewey Road rancher – he graduated from Edgemont High School in 2015 –said he was comfortable with proceeding and chided those who might share in the economic benefits of the project, people from Rapid City, Nemo and Hot Springs for having little at risk, yet wanting to stop the project. He hoped the project would be quickly approved. Also, 83-year-old Kenneth Barker, he’d been branding cattle earlier in the day, felt compelled to speak. “If it wasn’t for uranium, I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “Don’t let emotional propaganda overpower reason.” He also owns land at Crow Butte, and claimed everything was “okay” there.
• Former Edgemont Mayor Carl Shaw said the community “strongly supports” the project and submitted city council’s resolution of support to EPA. Shaw sees the project offering much-needed economic activity that could spur the school and businesses forward. The engineering and science behind the effort is sound, and he is tired of young people with engineering and science degrees leaving Edgemont for work North Dakota or Wyoming oil fields. He urged the project forward without undue burdens on the company.
• Two Edgemont teachers also said they supported the project: Linda Tidball, a 25-year resident who married into a fifth generation Edgemont family, said she wouldn’t want to do anything to contaminate the water, and that she enjoys the natural resources surrounding her. But after reviewing the company’s information, she believes the projects engineers have sound science. Tidball also nixed a notion that supporters were paid by Azarga/Powertech to do so, all were volunteers, she said. Also, Carol Harding, a 43-year city resident and teacher, said she would never advocate for something that put her children or grandchildren at risk, but supports the project because she knows the people involved and she trusts their judgment. Harding was equally against some racial epithets hurled at the Lakota people, most protesters, outside the church.
• Three Hot Springs women were among those who spoke against the project: Mary Helen Pederson, talked about living in Edgemont 61 years ago, when she was a child, and how something simply didn’t feel right there, due to the uranium. She told of uranium’s dangers – how the women who waited glow-in-the-dark dials on World War II watches died from uranium poisoning in the paint – and claimed Mark Hollenbeck, of Powertech, lives on the project so it can’t become an EPA Superfund site (the result of previous uranium mining). “EPA,” she said, “Do your job. Protect the land from being raped by corporations.” Sarah Peterson talked about how the EPA itself says waste water contaminated by uranium mining will never be “returned to baseline” levels, so how can it be cleaned enough to be put into an aquifer? “I’m scared,” she said, noting how Crow Butte uranium mine, south of Edgemont had a 125 million gallon “spill” due to a pinhole in a pipeline between extraction wells that went undetected by monitoring wells. Also, Eileen Olleger, of Hot Springs, a former teacher, talked about how in New Jersey, where she lived before moving to west, pollution was rampant, and big corporations and greed ruined the land. She lauded Edgemont’s natural beauty and its people, then asked why anyone would consider turning the area into a toxic dump site.
• Kathleen Jarvis, a former Custer State Park controller, now living in Hermosa offered some very scary arguments against the project: Citing U.S. Army Corps of Engineer (ACOE) reports and other documentation, she noted how artesian wells indicate that there is connectivity between aquifers and that removing uranium from rock formations could allow higher elevation waters to seep into lower elevation, then return with toxic chemicals when water pressure returns. She also cited radionucleitide tainted water quality concerns, where EPA allows 15 milligram per milliliter of radionucleaitides, where 17 mg/ml are now showing in Edgemont. Jarvis also worried that the thousands of tons of munitions disposed of at the former Black Hills Army Depot during the 1950s – 1980s – this included chemical warfare agents like sarin, mustard gas, phosgene, nerve gas and others; along with the remains of disassembled standard munitions – are currently leaching Beaver Creek, then the Cheyenne River and flowing east into the Missouri River. Couple this with in situ mining waste and there enormous problems.
• Kathleen Bailey talked about how low level radiation can be just as dangerous and higher doses over time. “The result is health effects – cancer,” she said, citing an example where municipal low level wastewater radioactivity resulted in five cancer deaths among employees in the treatment plant within six years.
• Several children offered their stance against the project: Rowan, Hesla, Tammanock and Sequoia sang a Lakota prayer song about mni wichoni, how water is alive, how many in nature are fighting against uranium mining. Isaiah Cox said he believed people could save the earth if they saw it as a painted circle. Each time uranium is taken out, a part of the circle is filled with black, and imagine how less beautiful Earth is all black. “Why ruin a sweet and beautiful place for money? Money is not everything,” he said.
• Alec Good King Elk asked the EPA to use common sense, and consider the pros and cons. “How long does money last,” he said. “You get it, then you spend it and it’s gone. If you destroy land, you can’t make more. Use common sense and don’t be the person who messes things up for everyone else.”
• Tishan Sapowin (Black Shawl Woman), who lives along Cheyenne River, on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation talked about how she and her family are downstream from Dewey Burdock. She said the whole project was illegal, because the Black Hills belong to the Lakota under recognized treaty rights, and that the only thing people for the project can come up with for it is money. Pointing to how the Crow Butte uranium mines have left a mess and contaminated everything, she said, “It’s ignorance and greed, racism at its finest. EPA has the power to grant or deny this, and it’s racism and genocide all over again. Do something right. Can you go home and look your children in the eye after granting this and know you did something right? Please don’t poison me, my son, the kids who had the courage to sing a song for you tonight.”
• Other Lakota people present agreed. Earl Hall talked about how water if more precious than gold, uranium, anything because it is fundamental to all life. “The Black Hills is not for sale,” he concluded.
• Don Hall pointed out how Supreme Court cases have verified that federal law sets aside Indian reservation water rights, quality water, “water sufficient to fulfill the purpose of the reservation.” This he told EPA, was part of their job to protect and defend water quality rights.
• Tonia Stands, of Oglala, said Crow Butte’s uranium problems were leaking into the White River, which runs through the Oglala Sioux Reservation, and shared how her Lakota family was prevented from praying, hunting, fishing and traveling on land they should rightfully call theirs under treaties. Stands said at a Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing it was brought out that Crow Butte had no monitoring system, except melting snow above problem areas. Stands also said that all of nature was speaking to the Lakota about opposing the project, to fulfill prophecies.
• As if to illustrate this, earlier in the hearing, Dorothy Roland Sun Bear, of Wounded Knee, “Concentration Camp No. 344,” as she described it, and Sophia Black Cloud, of Hot Springs, showed the EPA and the audience a turtle they found outside the church. It had a deformed head – they said due to Edgemont’s uranium mining.