The state of South Dakota wants to buy 266 acres of an abandoned mine site from the Black Hills National Forest.
The land is within the boundaries of the former Gilt Edge Mine, about 5 miles southeast of Lead, where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been conducting a cleanup for the past 19 years.
Ryan Brunner, state commissioner of school and public lands, said Wednesday that the state already owns most of the land within the cleanup boundaries because of past acquisitions, but there are still some parcels of national forest land and privately owned land.
The state wants to continue consolidating its ownership of the property, Brunner said, because federal law dictates that responsibility for the site will be transferred to the state after the EPA cleanup is finished.
“If we have to manage it,” Brunner said, “it would make sense that we’re the owner.”
Brunner made his comments during a presentation Wednesday to the Black Hills National Forest Advisory Board. The board met at the Mystic District Ranger office in Rapid City.
No action was taken on the proposed land sale. Brunner said the sale would require congressional legislation, which has not yet been drafted. An appraisal would have to be conducted to determine the price of the land.
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The last company to mine for gold at the Gilt Edge property, Brohm Mining, went bankrupt in 1999 and left behind 150 million gallons of acidic water that was laden with contaminants including arsenic and lead.
The EPA accepted the mine into its Superfund program in 2000 and has been working to clean it up ever since, by covering some of the expansive areas of exposed rock with dirt and vegetation, and by capturing and treating polluted water before releasing it into Strawberry Creek.
Last fall, an EPA official said $120 million had been spent on the cleanup, mostly from federal funding, although settlements with past operators of the mine have recouped about $40 million while the state of South Dakota has contributed more than $6 million.
A 2014 estimate by the EPA determined that about $88 million of work remained to be done at the mine, perhaps over the course of a decade.
Last year, the EPA signed an agreement with Canada-based Agnico Eagle Mines to study the source of cadmium pollution in Strawberry Creek. In exchange for drilling deep holes at the mine to assist with the cadmium investigation, Agnico is being allowed to take core samples that could help the company determine whether it is interested in re-mining the site.
Re-mining could mean re-disturbing parts of the mine that have already been cleaned up at taxpayer expense. But the EPA and Agnico have insisted their partnership is a potential win for taxpayers, because if Agnico obtains a permit to re-mine the property, the company could then be made responsible for the cleanup.
Gregg Loptien, the U.S. exploration manager for Agnico, said by phone Wednesday that he was not aware of the state’s proposal to acquire additional land within the Superfund boundaries and therefore had no comment on it. He said the company’s drilling operation at Gilt Edge is ongoing.
“What the state does is the state’s business,” Loptien said. “They don’t consult with us. We’re busy with our own program.”