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FORUM: Powertech project a reminder of Lonetree

FORUM: Powertech project a reminder of Lonetree


The “trash can of the nation” is how the media referred to Edgemont, because all through the 1980s, the residents and their elected officials courted one hazardous industry after another.

When the Black Hills Ordnance Depot at Igloo closed in 1967, and 500 jobs were lost, caution was thrown to the wind during multiple attempts to re-energize the local economy. We can all empathize with Edgemont business and homeowners grasping at any financial lifeline, regardless of how devastating they might prove to be. It’s easy to discount the obvious negatives when you’re trying to feed your family.

In 1984, there was a proposal for a radioactive waste dump, where one-third of the nation’s low-level waste, packaged in 55-gallon steel drums, would be buried in six-foot-deep, clay-lined pits. What could possibly go wrong?

That plan was scrapped when the voters rejected a multi-state radioactive storage compact, and the NRC noted that geological testing demonstrated that the site was grossly unsuitable.

The next scheme, offered up by some fast talkers from Nevada, was to haul the sewage ash (that nasty and toxic mess that settles to the bottom of sewage treatment plants) from Minneapolis. They claimed that their operation would create 300 jobs while producing fertilizer, paving material and gold. For the next two years, with the enthusiastic blessing of the governor, legislators and local businessmen, they hauled 270,000 tons of this “ash” to Igloo. And there it sat until 1988 when the operators took what was left of the $9 million they were paid for hauling the sewage from the Twin Cities and disappeared, leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid local debt and a massive taxpayer cleanup. Really, gold from poop, really!

And then came Lonetree. In 1989, a company sold the state decision makers on a plan to haul 30 million tons of garbage, from New York City and elsewhere, to a large-scale waste facility at Igloo. The Board of Minerals and Environment (BME) twice granted permits for this operation.

The citizens, thinking it might not be a good idea to put all that garbage on top of our aquifers with little more than a rain poncho in between, took the question to the ballot in 1990 with an initiative. This measure passed overwhelmingly and required the Legislature to approve such large scale projects. Unfortunately. the next year, our heavily lobbied legislators, ignored the will of the people and did just that.

Voters went back to the ballot in 1992 to negate this legislative action and won again.

Lonetree was finally put to rest, but the story didn’t end there. The company sued the state claiming interference with inter-state commerce and a “taking” since the BME had issued them permits to proceed. After winding through the courts for 12 years, the state finally settled, paying the company $5.2 million of taxpayers’ money.

The BME is now considering a permit for Powertech in the face of a massive citizen’s uprising against this latest lunacy. If the BME issues the permit required for uranium mining in our aquifers, it seems certain that the people will again go to the ballot to stop Powertech from proceeding with a much more dangerous plan than any of the ill-conceived projects that preceded it.

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