The Pennington County Commission approved three permits for a Croell Inc. limestone mine expansion Friday at the end of a seven-hour public meeting that included some bitter exchanges between the commission and opponents of the mine expansion.
The vote in favor of each permit was 4-1. Voting “yes” on each permit were commissioners Deb Hadcock, Gary Drewes, Ron Rossknecht and Mark DiSanto. Voting “no” on each permit was Lloyd LaCroix, although he said, “My ‘no’ vote is just so it’s not a unanimous vote.”
About a dozen members of the public testified against the permits during the hearing, and DiSanto said their concerns were considered.
“We hear you,” DiSanto said. “We’re going to monitor this.”
Croell Inc. sells redi-mix concrete and other associated products and services. It has been seeking permission for the past four years — through several prior rounds of public proceedings and two lawsuits — to expand the so-called Perli Pit Quarry. The turnoff to the quarry is 3.5 miles south of Rapid City along the west side of U.S. Highway 16, on a hill and curve between Bear Country USA and the America’s Founding Fathers Exhibit.
Friday’s County Commission hearing occurred two days after the Pennington County Planning Commission conducted its own five-hour hearing on the permits. The Planning Commission voted 5-2 in favor of the permits.
The county commission had the final say, but the matter could still be influenced by litigation that is pending with the state Supreme Court. That litigation, brought by opponents of the mine expansion, challenges the validity of the county’s mining regulations.
About 50 people were in attendance at the beginning of Friday’s hearing, although the crowd dwindled as the meeting dragged into the afternoon hours. Some members of the audience testified passionately and pointedly about their opposition to the mine.
The meeting grew heated when audience member Sylvia Cox said the county commissioners sounded like advocates for Croell Inc.
“You’re in a hurry to try to get this permit approved for Croell before the Supreme Court rules,” Cox said.
Several commission members said they were offended by Cox’s testimony, and sharp words were exchanged between them and Cox until the commission called a five-minute recess.
The public testimony lasted most of the morning. After a brief lunch break, representatives of Croell Inc. spoke at length to the commission during the afternoon. Tom Brady, an attorney for the company, said the public’s concerns would be taken into account.
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“Croell has been listening,” Brady said, “and they will continue to listen.”
At both the Wednesday and Friday hearings, audience members — many of them residing within a mile or two of the mine — expressed concerns about the danger of increased truck traffic on busy Highway 16, about dust and noise from mining, about the mine’s potential impact on the quantity and quality of water in neighboring wells, and about the mine’s impact on the scenic beauty of the area.
Officials from the state Department of Transportation pledged to work with Croell to mitigate the danger of increased truck traffic. Numerous options were discussed, including flashing signage indicating trucks entering the highway; adding acceleration and deceleration lanes for trucks; and requiring trucks to turn right out of the mine rather than left. Ultimately, however, no decisions were made, and the DOT said it will begin making those decisions now that the mine has permits.
A traffic-related condition that was added to the permits Friday at the suggestion of DiSanto was a prohibition against hauling at the mine during the week of the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally. DiSanto also added a condition that before trucks leave the mine, any loose gravel on parts of the truck must be cleaned off to keep the gravel from falling on the highway. Those conditions were added to numerous other conditions already attached to the permits by the Planning Department and Planning Commission.
Dust and noise concerns were met with assurances from Croell that the dust will be minimized — in part with water from a well that Croell plans to drill — and the noise will be mitigated to the extent possible by certified blast operators.
In response to concerns that the mine’s well might draw down the water levels of other wells in the area, Croell said it has made arrangements to monitor a neighbor’s well.
Concerns about scenic beauty were met with assurances by Croell that natural topography, trees, berms and required property-line setbacks would keep the mine from being visible to passing motorists.
Prior to Croell's testimony Friday, Julie Schmitz Jensen, of Visit Rapid City, testified that the mine expansion will negatively impact tourism.
"It’s just not the right thing to do as the front door to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park and so many others," she said.
Croell has purchased the Perli Pit Quarry, but prior to Croell’s ownership it was mined periodically by other entities since 1966. A total of 33.5 acres are already disturbed at the site and appear mostly unreclaimed. Croell wants to mine roughly another 70 acres during the next several decades, and the company plans to reclaim that land as it mines.
Production at the mine by other operators averaged 22,153 tons of material per year over the past 35 years, according to the Planning Department. Croell anticipates mining 50,000 to 100,000 tons of material annually and sending seven to 16 trucks per day onto Highway 16 during hauling operations.
After Friday’s hearing, a Croell official said the company hopes to begin mining the Perli Pit in a few months.