A company that has sought unsuccessfully to mine for gold near the rim of Spearfish Canyon is preparing to renew the effort.
Don Valentine, one of the managers of VMC LLC, gave an informational tour of the proposed project area Thursday to members of the state Board of Minerals and Environment. Afterward, in a Journal interview, Valentine said he began the application process Wednesday for a conditional use permit that the project needs from Lawrence County.
Amber Vogt, director of planning and zoning for the county, said Friday that the earliest the application could be presented to the county Planning and Zoning Board is Nov. 7, assuming the application is completed by the Oct. 16 deadline to place items on the Nov. 7 meeting agenda.
The application would have to go through the Planning and Zoning Board and the Lawrence County Commission, which would each hold public hearings.
“I tell people that more often than not, a conditional use permit will take three to six months to consider,” Vogt said.
Vogt said county officials considered a prior permit application from VMC in 2012, but the application never received a final vote from the county commission. At that time, the proposed project was called the Deadwood Standard.
The 2012 application drew public criticism, including from homeowners in Spearfish Canyon who expressed concerns about the mine’s potential to negatively affect their property values and cause noise, dust and environmental damage.
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Valentine said his new application will move the project boundaries about 500 feet farther away from the canyon rim than the previous application. He did not immediately know exactly how close the irregular-shaped project boundaries would come to the canyon rim, but he estimated 800 feet at the closest.
Brian Walsh, spokesman for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said Friday that VMC has a large-scale mine permit for the site that was issued to Homestake Mining Company in 1984 and was later transferred through several different companies. VMC has held the permit since 2012.
Although VMC has not yet conducted any mining, it has conducted exploratory drilling. Last March, state regulators announced that they had fined VMC and Valentine a total of $11,000 for drilling holes up to 700 feet deeper than allowed; for failing to provide the state Department of Game, Fish & Parks with a map showing the location of all historic, open mine workings so that the workings could be assessed for use by bats; and for failing to notify the GF&P of exploration activity within 100 feet of a historical mine shaft.
The gathering point for Thursday’s tour of the proposed mine area was the Wharf gold mine, a few miles west of Lead. Members of the Board of Minerals and Environment, employees of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and some members of the public climbed into SUVs and pickups and drove several miles on a severely rocky dirt road that included some mud holes. Where Valentine stopped the group at the proposed project site, Spearfish Canyon was not visible through the forest, but the canyon rim was about a quarter-mile away.
The proposed mine area is on a high plateau above the eastern side of Spearfish Canyon. The spot is about a mile east from, and about 1,000 feet above, the Savoy junction and attractions including Roughlock Falls, Little Spearfish Falls, Spearfish Canyon Lodge and the Latchstring Inn.
Valentine told members of the Board of Minerals and Environment that gold can be found in shallow deposits on the plateau. He said the appropriate mining method for the site would include stripping layers of earth away to reveal the gold-bearing ore, crushing the ore and placing it in vats where a cyanide solution would be used to separate gold from the ore.
VMC’s publicly available incorporation papers list managers including Valentine, of Steamboat Springs, Colorado; Kenneth D. Jensen, of Mobridge; Mark Nelson, of Nemo; Don Silva, of Hayden, Colorado; and Dana Bender, of Rapid City.