The Meade County Planning Board approved a Black Hawk housing development after being told it would be built over a mine and that soil boring may be needed to determine if dangerous cavities exist, according to public records on the county's website.
The board knew as early as 2000 that part of the Hideaway Hills community would be built over an old gypsum mine.
“In the early 1900s, an underground (gypsum) mining operation took place on the (northeast) corner of the property,” project developers wrote in a July 2000 document packet submitted to board. “Field boring operation may be required to identify any cavities that may be a safety hazard.”
Documents show the Planning Board ordered the developer to resolve sewer, drainage, road and other issues throughout the early 2000s. None of the documents on the website — which may not represent all documents related to Hideaway Hills — ever mention the board receiving or ordering soil boring or other tests to determine whether it was safe to build homes on top of the mine.
While it's unclear if such testing ever took place, it's clear there were significant cavities under the property.
That's because 20 years later, a massive sinkhole opened on East Daisy Drive, exposing the fact that at least a 15 homes were built over a shallow, mostly hollow mine made of water-soluble gypsum. More than 40 people have had to leave their homes since April 27 and will likely never be able to return.
It's "pretty clear" the county knew about the mine, Allison Ireland, whose home was built in 2004, said of the 2000 packet. And it’s “complete negligence” if the county didn’t order soil boring after being told about the mine.
The Planning Board was also warned in 2006 that part of Daisy Drive was collapsing but declined to close the street.
“The original developers want to close off part of Daisy Drive because it is caving into the old underground mine,” reads the minutes from a June 19, 2006 meeting. “They have tried to repair the road, but it is still sinking.” The engineer should tell his clients to “fix the road properly” because the board “will not approve the closing of Daisy Drive."
Ireland, who’s now renting a home with her husband and two children, said the documents show the county needs to help the now former residents to cover the entire value of their homes, not just the 75% they'll receive if a FEMA grant is approved.
“This has really been a nightmare for all of us” and “I feel like their responsibility is more than just” applying for the grant, Ireland said of Meade County.
The Dakota Plaster Company built a gypsum mine in the Hideaway Hills area in 1910, according to Journal archives and the Meade County website. Most of the gypsum was processed by the State Cement Plant in Rapid City.
The cement plant continued to mine gypsum in the 1980s, according to the 2000 document packet. The state sold the plant to GCC Dacotah in 2011, according to Journal archives.
Larry Fuss told the Journal that he bought the land that became Hideaway Hills from the state in 1994 or 1995.
The 40 acres was “nothing but a grassy pasture,” one home and a barn, he said. “To my knowledge (the state) had properly reclaimed” the mine.
Fuss said his family and horses lived on the land until he sold it to developer Keith Kuchenbecker in 2000.
Kuchenbecker did not return a message from the Journal. The primary engineer on the project was Doug Sperlich of the now-closed Renner & Sperlich Engineering. Sperlich did not return a message from the Journal.
The Planning Board received the document packet that mentions the mining history and possible need for soil boring on July 13, 2000. The board unanimously approved the preliminary plat on July 17, 2000, without discussing soil boring, minutes show.
Final plats and expansions of Hideaway Hills continued to be approved by the Planning Board from 2002-2004 without discussion of the mine, minutes and documents show. Private water districts, a railroad company, a fire department and the South Dakota Department of Natural Resources were also involved in approving specific aspects of the project. The Meade County Commission approved the plat for Hideaway Hills in September 2003.
The Planning Board discussed the mine on June, 19, 2006, when Kale McNaboe and John Ogdon came to discuss an expansion of Hideaway Hills, minutes show. McNaboe is a Rapid City-based engineer; it’s unclear what Ogdon’s role was.
The Planning Board unanimously approved the new plat after discussing that the original developers wanted to close off part of Daisy Drive since it was collapsing into the mine. The board told McNaboe to have his clients fix the road because the board wasn't going to close it.
McNaboe did not return a message asking about the extent of the 2006 collapse and how it was repaired.
Bill Rich, current deputy director of planning for Meade County, did not return messages from the Journal.
Doug Huntrods, director of emergency management in Meade County, said he’s hiring an appraiser to determine the value of the evacuated homes before the sinkhole emerged. He’s also hiring an engineer who will evaluate the threat to each house. The appraisals and threat assessments are required parts of the FEMA grant application.
Huntrods also says he’s looking to work with engineers to “evaluate the threat to the whole neighborhood,” not just the homes that cavers were able to identify as being on top of the mine.
Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation has hired a Rapid City engineering firm to study the safety of Interstate 90 and the exit near Hideaway Hills.
Correction: Bill Rich, current deputy director of planning for Meade County, was never on the Meade County Planning Board. Rich said he began his position in 2005 and while he attended the June 19, 2006 board meeting, the minutes incorrectly listed him as a member.
— Contact Arielle Zionts at email@example.com.