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SILVER CITY | Representatives of a gold exploration company who want to drill in the Black Hills tried to win over a skeptical crowd Tuesday night in the quiet hamlet of Silver City.

A standing-room audience of about 75 people crammed into the picturesque former schoolhouse known as the Silver City Community Hall to listen and ask questions of officials including Rob Bergmann and Brian Lentz. They are the president and vice president of F3 Gold, a Minneapolis-based exploration and prospecting company. Bergmann and Lentz are also principals in Big Rock Exploration, a technical consulting firm.

F3 Gold has submitted a plan of operations to the Black Hills National Forest that includes drilling up to 40 sites for core samples in the rocky and forested Silver City area, near Pactola Reservoir in the central Black Hills. The plan is under consideration by the U.S. Forest Service.

During their presentation Tuesday night, Bergmann and Lentz described themselves and their companies as committed to the highest ethical and environmental standards. Their goal is to find a deep underground gold deposit. If they find one, they would not mine the deposit themselves but would sell their findings to a mining company.

Lentz said historical gold mining in the Silver City area ended in the early 1900s when the focus of the Black Hills mining industry shifted to the Lead area and the massive Homestake Mine.

"We really believe this leaves us with some untested opportunities at depth here," Lentz said.

F3 Gold hosted Tuesday night's meeting and intended it as a small gathering for the residents and landowners of Silver City, but word of the meeting had spread beyond the Silver City community, and people from throughout the Black Hills attended. After the presentation, there was a question-and-answer session with some moments of tension.

Several audience members said they found Bergmann and Lentz to be sincere and believable, but those same audience members said they're less worried about Bergmann and Lentz than they are about who or what might follow them — namely, gold-mining companies.

"The history of mining in the Black Hills is just full of abuses, and you just can't deny that," said audience member Byron Sutter, of Rapid City. "That's why people are not trusting of more proposals."

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Those historical abuses in the Black Hills include the Open Cut, which is a massive unreclaimed pit in Lead, and the abandoned Gilt Edge Mine near Lead, which is in the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund cleanup program. Some Black Hills waterways were also severely polluted by mining-related chemicals prior to modern regulatory enforcement.

Audience members Tuesday night expressed fears about potential water pollution from exploratory drilling. They asked if drills could penetrate unexpected water sources and disturb harmful underground chemicals or minerals that could then migrate and threaten wells.

Lentz said pollution of any aquifers from exploratory drilling is “extremely improbable,” because the Silver City area is in the “core of Precambrian rock” away from major Black Hills aquifers. He said the drilling process uses water, bentonite clay and biodegradable lubricants, none of which is harmful to the environment.

F3 Gold’s hope is to begin drilling by 2020, with a first phase of perhaps a few drill sites followed by a period of analysis to determine the fate of further drilling.

Each drill site’s footprint would be up to about 50-by-50 feet. Primary access roads for the operation would be Jenney Gulch and Sunnyside Gulch roads, and no new road construction is planned. The roads would experience traffic from water trucks one to two times per day during drilling, and from crew trucks three to four times per day.

Water to help lubricate the drills would be obtained from a municipal source — although the F3 representatives didn’t say which one — rather than from Pactola Reservoir or Rapid Creek. Water would be contained in tanks and recycled.

Drilling depths could be as deep as 6,000 feet. The extracted core samples of rock would be up to about baseball-size in diameter. Each hole would have to be plugged and capped, and each drilling site would have to be restored to a natural condition, according to regulatory standards.

Any potential gold mine developed to capitalize on F3 Gold's exploratory findings would not be an open-pit-style mine, F3 officials said, but would rather be a deep underground mine.

F3 Gold’s exploratory drilling program would be at least the second Black Hills exploratory gold-drilling operation in recent years. A Canadian company, Mineral Mountain Resources, currently has its operation on hold after a recent initial phase of nine drilled-and-plugged holes near Rochford.

Gold exploration and mining have been ongoing in the Black Hills since the 1870s. The only currently active, large-scale gold mine in the Black Hills is the Wharf Mine, which is near Terry Peak.

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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Enterprise Reporter

Enterprise reporter for the Rapid City Journal and author of "Calvin Coolidge in the Black Hills."