The company proposing to mine for uranium near Edgemont anticipates having at least one full-time state environmental inspector on the site, according to its chief executive officer.
Richard Clement, president and chief executive officer of Powertech Uranium Corp., said Tuesday that state Department of Environment and Natural Resources regulators have already been present during the company's test drilling.
"That's something we expect," Clement told the Journal during state permit hearings in Rapid City.
Clement said he welcomes the prospect, because "that way there's never a question about the activities the company is doing, the choices their making or the reports their giving out."
The company hasn't yet been in talks with the DENR on how on-site regulation would work, according to Clement. But he said there could be more than one such regulator.
Clement also couldn't say whether the company or the state would pay for the presence of state regulators. One possibility, however, is that some of the tax revenue coming from a mine could be used to pay for inspectors, he said.
The proposed Dewey-Burdock mine, which would be about 15 miles northwest of Edgemont, would employ in-situ mining — meaning the company would inject oxygenated water into the ground to absorb uranium. The water would then be pumped back to the surface, where the uranium would be extracted and processed.
The hearing is like a jury trial where each side presents witnesses and testimony. Opponents worry the mine could drain or pollute the region's aquifers and damage the region's tourism industry.
There have been conflicting accounts of how much authority the DENR will have to oversee the project.
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The department is not discussing any details of what or how it can regulate the mine, citing the ongoing contested cases.
A hydrologist for Powertech revealed in September during a mining permit hearing that the DENR doesn't appear to have any authority around the mining wells. The state, however, would be able to regulate any contamination that moves out of the vicinity of the wells, according to Hal Demuth, a hydrologist employed by Powertech.
Clement told the Journal that the DENR will have "total authority" over any mining operation activities that will occur on the surface of the land.
The news may not necessarily comfort mining opponents. Jerri Baker, an opponent who previously worked on a uranium mine clean-up project in Colorado, said she will move away if the Dewey-Burdock project is approved.
"I know that there is no safe way to mine for uranium," Baker said Tuesday during testimony.
She is one of several opponents who have threatened to leave the Black Hills if the project goes forward.
Linsey McLean, a biochemist from Rapid City who studies chronic diseases in animals, said she'd also move. McLean spent Tuesday afternoon testifying how heavy metals such as uranium, selenium and arsenic can harm animals and move up the food chain to hurt humans.
"No mining techniques ever developed have so far proven to be safe and without environmental consequences," McLean said during her testimony. "Humanity has continuously failed to clean up our mining messes throughout history."
The hearings will resume at 8:30 a.m. today at the Best Western Ramkota in Rapid City.