The Pennington County commissioners approved a rezoning request Tuesday to pave the way for a controversial asphalt plant to be built near a mobile home community and the Dakota Fields Soccer Complex in northeast Rapid City.

Commissioners Deb Hadcock, Mark DiSanto and George Ferebee voted in favor, while Lloyd LaCroix and Ron Buskerud voted against.

The commission made its decision after hearing for several hours from nearly two dozen area residents and soccer boosters who voiced strong opposition to the project, primarily due to concerns of possible air pollution from the asphalt plant.

“You’re being asked,” Attorney Roger Tellinghuisen said to the commissioners, “to put one company’s profits ahead of the health, safety and welfare of not only the people who live adjacent to this particular site, but all the kids, and moms and dads, and grandpas and grandmas who are coming to this soccer field.”  

The commission voted to rezone the 69-acre lot located southwest of the intersection of Dyess Avenue and Country Road from agricultural to heavy industrial uses, giving the green light to projects such as the Western Construction asphalt plant proposed for 40 acres on that spot.

According to officials in the county planning and zoning office, the rezoning will take effect May 24 and may be appealed in court.

Many residents at Tuesday's meeting expressed fears that airborne carcinogenic toxins such as benzene emitted by the plant will have long-term negative health affects on the people in the area.

“I’m limping because in the womb I was exposed to things like benzene,” Gena Parkhurst of Rapid City told the commission. “It is true that small quantities of things can have big effects on people’s health.”

At a previous meeting, Tom Lien, the owner of Western Construction — the company looking to build the plant — brought in chemical expert Laura Green of Green Toxicology, who said the amount of benzene generated by the asphalt plant would be negligible.

But Lien’s reassurances and Green’s analysis appear to have done little to assuage the worries of the people opposed to the project.

 “Fifty years from now,” Tellinghuisen said, “I don’t believe the science that’s available is going to say to us these ‘negligible’ amounts of benzene emitted by asphalt plants aren’t harmful. I suspect, and I strongly believe, that what’s going to happen is just the opposite. It’s going to follow the same track that smoking and secondhand smoke has taken. We’re going to find out it is harmful, even in negligible amounts.”

Doug Noyes, executive director of the Black Hills Rapid Soccer Club, also expressed concerns about the asphalt plant.

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“Here’s my position as the representative of all these children: There are no studies pertaining to children and their exposure to asphalt,” Noyes said. “It may take a generation or so before we really have the answers to this. But I am not willing to take that chance.

"No one has absolutely come to me and said, ‘No, don’t worry about this, none of those kids are going to get cancer.’ But what percentage are we willing to tolerate? Is 5 percent OK? Or 1 percent? That sounds pretty small unless it’s your child.”

Bob Young is the owner of D & J Mobile Estates, the mobile home community situated near where the asphalt plant will go. He said he has a petition signed by 80 residents who live within a half-mile of the site, all of them opposed to the project due to concerns about air and noise pollution.

Though they weren't at Tuesday's meeting, Penny Moore, Liz Countryman and Cherie Kursave are among the residents who are against the project.

"I don’t want it," Moore said. "I know if they put it in, I’ll have to move my trailer, which would be a $5,000 expense. (The plant) would be right behind my house. They say the wind doesn’t blow in this directions, but in the summer it does.”

"I already had cancer once. I don't want to fight it again," Countryman said. "These little kids playing soccer don’t deserve it. If you (commissioners) don’t want it in your backyard, we don’t want it in ours.”

Kursave said she was "completely" against the plant. "It’ll make it a lot harder to let (my son, Tristan) outside to play," she said. "We live in a such a quiet, clean area. It will add more traffic, and that will be a hassle.” 

Lien noted that another asphalt plant and a plastic plant are already in operation in the area near the soccer fields and mobile homes, and that his project will create about 20 new jobs.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have another plant on the same road as two other plants,” Lien said.

Though he did not dispute Green’s chemical analysis, chemical engineer Darren Haar highlighted the value of perhaps seeking another scientific opinion.

“It is a well-known fact that the aromatics that are involved in a heavy distillation tower where these asphalts come from, they are carcinogens, they are mutagens, do not mistake that,” Haar said.

“The interesting thing about these debates, the reason they take so long to resolve, is we just don’t know the chronic long-term effects to children. The problem is when we know, it is too late.”

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Education/County Reporter

Education/county reporter for the Rapid City Journal.