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EDITORIAL: Powertech hearings informative

Last week’s state Board of Minerals and Environment hearings into Powertech Uranium’s proposed mine near Edgemont revealed both the expected and unexpected.

As expected:

- The week-long hearings at the Best Western Ramkota in Rapid City were heavily attended by proponents and opponents of the project. Bringing the hearings to Rapid City from Pierre allowed many West River residents who would be most affected by the mining project to attend the hearings in person.

- The company’s in situ process to extract uranium ore was the object of intense scrutiny by opponents, who argued that it would lead to surface and groundwater pollution. The company argued that the process is safe.

- Opponents said the Legislature’s removal of state regulation of the proposed mine in deference to federal agency expertise would lead to less scrutiny of the project.

- The mine would be located about 15 miles northwest of Edgemont. The in situ process is expected to recover 1 million pounds of uranium each year for eight years, and which would be processed onsite.

Among the unexpected:

- Powertech would like to pump wastewater back into the aquifers, effectively validating opponents’ concerns about the potential of compromising acquifer water quality.

- The company plans to also mine vanadium, which is used in steel alloys to manufacture parts for automobiles, aircraft and cutting tools.

- The state law that removes state Department of Natural Resources and Environment regulation also removes DENR jurisdiction of the mining site, a development that opponents said would prevent the state from containing possible contamination at the mine.

- The ore processing plant at the Dewey site would also process uranium from mines in Wyoming.

- The hearings will be continued in November, after which a decision on Powertech’s large project application will be made.

Holding the hearings in Rapid City was a good decision by the Board of Minerals. It allowed more people who live in the area where the proposed mine would be located to attend the hearing.

The hearing’s format, where “intervenors” were allowed to question Powertech representatives, brought out information that the company might not have wanted to become public – such as plans to pump wastewater into the aquifers and to mine vanadium in addition to uranium.

Full disclosure by Powertech of its plans for its proposed uranium mine is important to convince skeptics that the project will not harm the environment or degrade the quality of life of residents of the Southern Hills. We welcome the board’s continuation of its Powertech hearings. The more the public knows about the project before it starts, the more comfortable local residents will be to have Powertech as a neighbor, if the project were to go forward.

Next week, the state Water Management Board will convene hearings in Rapid City on Powertech’s water permit application, which we hope will be as informative.

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