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Meade County officials will hold off on approving a surface mining ordinance for now, after learning that the county must first have a zoning ordinance on the books.

County Commissioner Alan Aker, who proposed a zoning ordinance to regulate mining in the county last fall after learning of plans by a Canadian-based corporation to mine in old, arsenic-laced mine tailings along an 18-mile stretch of Whitewood Creek, later directed county planning officials to draft a surface mining ordinance.

Aker explained during the commission's first meeting of 2014 that state law prohibits the county from passing a mining ordinance unless it is preceded by a zoning ordinance.

Fellow commissioners failed to endorse Aker's proposed zoning ordinance in September that would have designated all of Meade County outside the boundaries of municipalities as a General Use zone and allowed all land uses to be permitted except those requiring a conditions use permit.

The proposed surface mining ordinance would have required all persons, firms or corporations engaging in the mining of topsoil, earth, clay, gravel, sand, stone or other minerals on any land within Meade County to obtain a mining operations use permit.

In addition to mining of tailings for gold, Aker's proposal would have required a conditional use permit for oil refineries, electricity generating facilities and non-agricultural landfill, composting, recycling or sewer treatment facilities which encompass more than five acres of land.

Commissioners agreed that some regulation was necessary, but disagreed on how much oversight the county should have.

Several audience members discouraged the commission from regulating mining, suggesting instead that the county do whatever is necessary to bring economic development to the county.

Aker, in defending the proposed zoning ordinance, pointed out projects that came to Meade County because there were no regulations, including a two-acre rubble site that grew to more than 75 acres without any input from the county commission.

"I think there's some potential for some bad things to happen. I think when and if that happens, and they ask me what I tried to do about it, I can say on September 4, 2013, I made a option," he said.

The commission directed the county's planning department to contact nearby counties with mining ordinances and draft an ordinance suitable for Meade County.

Environmentalist Nancy Hilding of Black Hawk said while she doesn't disagree with the county's desire to pass a mining ordinance, she believes much more work and research must first be done to write an effective ordinance.

Hilding said she believes many of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources regulations are inadequate, and suggested the county consider more strict guidelines.

Aker said he believes Meade County is among a small handful of counties in South Dakota that does not have a zoning ordinance.

He said he is considering carrying a petition to put a zoning ordinance in the 2014 ballot if he can do it without costing the county money.

The proposed ordinance can be found on the Meade County website at http://www.boarddocs.com/sd/meade/Board.nsf/files/9DTQZ66398D3/$file/Proposed%20Meade%20County%20Surface%20Mining%20Ordinance%20%28Draft%29.pdf

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