HOT SPRINGS | Public sentiment about a proposed uranium mine in the Black Hills was on full display Saturday during a hearing hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency at the Mueller Center in Hot Springs.
The EPA is seeking comments through Dec. 9 to evaluate two draft underground injection control permits and an aquifer exemption for the proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium in-situ mine near Edgemont.
The proposed mining operation is for Powertech, a U.S.-based division of the global Azarga Uranium Corp.
One of the permits is for injection wells to dissolve uranium from underground ore. The other is for deep injection wells that would be used to dispose of mining waste fluids into the Minnelusa aquifer, after treatment to meet radioactive and hazardous waste standards.
The EPA is also proposing an aquifer exemption, to exempt the uranium-bearing portions of the Inyan Kara Group aquifers from safe-drinking water standards. The mine needs the exemption in order to inject fluids to mobilize uranium in the Inyan Kara aquifers for uranium recovery.
The majority of the concerns for the crowd of approximately 100 people Saturday centered around water quality.
Karen Little Thunder, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, lives in Rapid City. During Saturday’s hearing in Hot Springs, Little Thunder said the EPA must consider the impacts uranium mining and the subsequent wastewater injection have on the health of humans and animals.
“The Ȟe Sápa, the Black Hills and its waters are life,” Little Thunder said. “The Hills are the good health of our future generations, both yours and ours.”
Dr. Andy Johnson, an assistant physics professor at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, said the health of the ecosystem in the area trumps any human interests.
“The ecosystem is bigger than we are. We are just members of it,” Johnson said.
Johnson went on to say that as a non-Native American person living on Native American land, it is time for acknowledgement of that fact.
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“This is treaty land from the Treaty of 1868. The proposed ISR mine is also part of these tribal lands,” Johnson said. “Because it has not taken the treaty into account, the EPA permitting process is in violation of federal law.”
Mark Hollenbeck, project director for Powertech, attended Saturday’s meeting. In an interview with the Journal out in the hallway of the Mueller Center, Hollenbeck claimed the majority of those who spoke in the public hearing were being misled by activists.
“I’m disappointed that they understand so little,” Hollenbeck said. “When you listen to the testimony it’s obvious that the environmental protest movement has really slanted the views.”
Hollenbeck said an organization put out a video on YouTube last week that intentionally redrew a U.S. Geological Survey map of ground water resources in the Black Hills. The fraudulent map, Hollenbeck alleges, shows large gaps and cracks in the Inyan Kara Group — specifically between the Minnekahta and Minnelusa formations, the Madison limestone and the Deadwood formation.
“There is a misunderstanding that this is pristine water. It certainly is not. If there is uranium ore body in it, it is not pristine water or drinkable water,” Hollenbeck said. “The area we are going to inject treated wastewater has to be of lower quality than the water we are injecting. We have to prove that it is not drinkable or usable to operate in that area.”
Douglas Minter, the EPA Region 8 manager of the underground injection control program, said the federal agency will take the comments given Saturday, as well as comments from meetings in 2017, into consideration before making a final decision on the permits.
“We will afford public comment until Dec. 9,” Minter said. “Even though we knew many of the constituents coming today were familiar with the project from the last process we followed in 2017, we felt it was important to have at least one venue and one full day of hearings. We are glad to see so many people showing up (Saturday) to hear their concerns and will add that to the record.”
At the close of the public comment period, the EPA will review and consider all comments received during both the 2017 and 2019 public comment periods and during all the public hearings before making its final permit decisions.
The EPA will also prepare a written statement that will include responses to all the comments received that are relevant to the injection permits. For more information, visit the EPA Region 8 UIC Program website, https://www.epa.gov/uic/uic-epa-region-8.
To submit written comments, go online to Regulations.gov under docket number EPA-R08-OW-2019-0512, or mail comments to Valois Robinson, U.S. EPA Region 8, Mail Code: 8WD-SDU, 1595 Wynkoop Street, Denver, CO, 80202-1129.
Written comments to the EPA must be received by midnight Mountain time on Dec. 9.