Ongoing Assault on Paha Sapa by Mineral Extraction Claims
~ Mary Burrows
“Our Water is under attack!!” Cante Heart
Powertech/Azarga, a foreign-based exploitation
company, has again reared it's ugly head with
regard to the permitting process that would
allow them to mine for Uranium in the
Dewey-Burdock field of southwestern
To Whom It May Concern:
I am adamantly opposed to Water Management Board resuming the permitting hearing process for Powertech/Azarga to leach-mine yellowcake Uranium in West River (Fall River and Custer counties) South Dakota.
Intervenors were given minimal time to organize a presentation for the upcoming hearing, and, given that the meeting is only scheduled for 30 minutes with six agenda items, these same people, me included, have doubts about being heard on May 5, 2021.
Since the question at hand is a project located in the Southern Black Hills, I respectfully but determinedly ask that future hearings on this and similar matters be held in the Black Hills.
Above is an example (mine) of one of hundreds, if not thousands, of letters sent to the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Water Management Board in a campaign spearheaded by Lillias Jarding, PhD, of Rapid City, South Dakota.
During early 2021, the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires) Caucus of the South Dakota Democratic Party (SDDP) held Tuesday on-line meetings with guest presenters and participants discussing issues of vital importance to residents of the state.
On May 11, 2021, the presenter was Dr. Jarding. She offered information about the dangers of the persistent pursuit of mineral extraction within the Black Hills environment. Those present representing the Caucus included Cante Heart, Alaina Beautiful Bald Eagle, and Remi Bald Eagle.
Jarding holds a PhD in Political Science and is a long time clean-water advocate who has successfully led opposition to various mining operations and the long-term effects of their pollution on the environment.
Despite total opposition voiced at an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "hearing" at Hot Springs, South Dakota, permits were issued in October 2019 for Powertech/Azarga (Powertech) to conduct in-situ leach Uranium mining operations in the Dewey-Burdock field of western South Dakota. Whisper and Thunder readers recall reporting done at the time about that hearing. There are, however, state agencies with their various permits still pending. Currently, South Dakota Department of Agriculture's Water Management Board is considering whether to resume the permitting hearing process for Powertech, and there is a long list of intervenors opposing such resumption.
As a member of the Dine`tribe, Caucus member Alaina Beautiful Bald Eagle, shared how “Uranium mining hits close to home.” The Navajo have a “tragic history” regarding Uranium and government. Thousands of tribal men worked the 500 now-abandoned mines in Dine`country. In 1979, a radioactive spill contaminated rivers and decimated agriculture. Illnesses, especially cancers, increased, while the tribe was denied any assistance from their governor.
Jarding went on to describe long-term effects from leaking and abandoned wells as well as tailing ponds left behind by failure to reclaim the damage of previous exploration and extraction.
She also decried continual efforts by various—many foreign-based—entities to extract every iota of gold from the Black Hills.
Mining laws in South Dakota date back to the 1870's treaty-breaking era wherein Lakota lands were exploited and laws were designed to promote mining and encourage invasion of treaty territory. There were also NO payments of federal royalties by mining operations. These antiquated rules need to be revised to protect today's water supplies and reflect current reality.
Jarding also mentioned a Rare Earths extraction unit west of the Black Hills in Wyoming. Rare Earths are necessary for the Green Revolution; therein lies the dilemma.
She touched on the impact that mining and its pollution has on surrounding cultures and life including continual traffic, light, and noise; displacement of wildlife; and cyanide poisoning of watersheds. The greatest danger lies in the pollution of above- and below-ground waters in the Rapid Creek watersheds, which supply Rapid City and the surrounding area. Such watersheds subsequently flow into the Missouri River. Twenty-four percent of the Rapid Creek watershed is under claims by two mining entities.
According to South Dakota's archaic mining laws, having a claim means one has the absolute right to explore and mine said claim. Nothing to be said about contamination or pollution. Gilt Edge Mine (Homestake Mining Company/gold) in South Dakota created a SuperFund site contaminated by leaching cyanide.
The company has also polluted another SuperFund site in Cibola, New Mexico.
In 2006, Powertech applied for mining claims for Dewey-Burdock.
Jarding also shared that the Crow Butte Uranium Mine near Crawford, Nebraska, south of Dewey-Burdock, is closing down. The mine had over 75 “reportable incidents” (violations) within the past year or so.
Remi Bald Eagle, Mniconjou Lakota from Cheyenne River, announced that the Caucus had issued a strongly worded statement in opposition to the Dewey-Burdock project. Additionally, the Cultural Site Survey process has not been done appropriately for the land in question. In accordance with the Self-determination Act of 1975, Bald Eagle insists that the Tribes have more say in the language of resolutions affecting Native Americans.
Jarding added that these resolutions and decisions are being made by people with no vested interest in the area. “Alliances are vital,” she said.
In the years between 1951 and 1972, 169 Uranium mines were abandoned within the Black Hills. The mines in the Dewey-Burdock area are yet to be reclaimed. People used to go out with Geiger counters looking for the mineral, totally oblivious to the dangers of radioactivity.
In the 1950s, a Uranium mill operated in Edgemont, southwestern Fall River County, South Dakota. In 1982, a dam there broke, and the pollution entered the Cheyenne River. Water tested at the Angostura Dam on the Cheyenne showed elevated Uranium levels in 2014. https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2019/12/f69/Edgemont,%20South%20Dakota,%20Disposal%20Site%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
In 1979, the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance (BHCWA) was formed, an unholy alliance of various entities that came together with a common cause: Protection of the Sacred Water so vital to all life on Earth.
In 2013, the South Dakota Legislature passed SB 158, which suspended all regulations relating to leach mining--one year after Powertech applied for mining permits.
On June 8, 2021, Black Hills Chapter of Dakota Rural Action, a unified group of South Dakotans who demand more clean, renewable, and local energy, along with BHCWA, hosted an on-line and in-person gathering in breathtaking Hot Brook Canyon beside a busy stream of flowing spring water: one of the 140-some living springs in the Valley of Fall River, Hot Springs, South Dakota. About 30 people, plus babies and dogs, attended the meeting.
One can only imagine cataclysmic water crashing through the now-peaceful canyon and sculpting the 100-foot tall shapes of sandstone, some with myriad swallow nests under their sheltered overhangs. Canyon walls bear witness to the porous nature of the sandstone formations underlying Dewey-Burdock. In more recent times, The People enjoyed the chuckling warm waters, known as “mni kahta” to Lakota, and natural bathing pools long after Colombian Mammoths roamed the surrounding prairies, hunted by Paleo-peoples.
Andy Johnson, president of the Hot Springs chapter of Dakota Rural Action, greeted those in the canyon and on-line by sharing the commitment to “honoring the Native Lands we occupy.” Oceti Sakowin lives in a spiritual relationship with the land and the water. “We stand together to protect both.”
He introduced Lillias Jarding to the group. She started with the sobering information that Uranium takes 4½ Billion years to decompose into lead. Nuclear power to create electricity uses highly enriched Uranium. Relative to the new generation of reactors, they are still in development, and there are no regulations for them at this time.
Nuclear power is not climate neutral, despite what is said. The manufacturing and construction of reactors uses carbon-based electricity. Mining alone contributes 10% of carbon emissions. Enrichment also uses electricity. Nuclear power is NOT carbon free.
Powertech's in-situ leach process intends to withdraw millions of gallons of water over 20 years from the massive Madison Formation underlying much of the Great Plains and the Inyan Kara aquifer, which is the water supply for much of the Southern Black Hills and eastward; add chemicals, and pump it into an aquifer so they can suck out minerals, extract the yellow cake, and pump the polluted and irradiated water into the Minnelusa aquifer, after which they will be unable to contain the solution.
The Black Hills rose up through the Pierre Sea, so the Heart of the Hills is decomposing bedrock granite and very old. The “newer” sandstone formations slope away from the Black Hills. Since there are no crystalline layers between the formations, pollution seeps down as well as flows outward.
Powertech controls 12,000 acres at Dewey-Burdock, and it wants to sink 4,000 extraction wells. It also proposes another processing plant for yellow cake (more pollution and potential danger!), which will then be packed into 55-gallon drums and trucked (!!!) to Ontario in Canada.
“And contaminated water WILL move!” Jarding warned.
Intervenor Rick Bell, an environmental engineer, stated that leach mining is a “huge mistake! An accident waiting to happen!!”
Chemical reactions occur underground. Sodium bicarbonate is the mobilizing leachate intended for Powertech's aquifer injection. “In this geology, it is impossible to capture mobilized minerals.”
Reno Red Cloud and Tom Brings of the Oglala Sioux Tribe were introduced. Red Cloud is a sixth-generation descendant of the great Chief Makpiya Luta, signer of the treaty that ended Red Cloud's War at Fort Laramie.
Red Cloud is in charge of water management for the Tribe. He has worked in that industry for 30 years or more. When he returned home to Pine Ridge, he realized that the water on the Reservation, as well as in surrounding towns, “was bad!” In 1988, the Mni Wiconi (Water is Life) Project was undertaken. https://www.mni-wiconi.org/ The project stretches from Fort Pierre, where Missouri River surface water (initially) is treated and pumped into a pipeline and sent on to the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Lower Brule Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe rural water systems, and the West River/Lyman-Jones Rural Water System.
“Many people were brought together because of the water,” he said. In 2015, the water codes were revised to include 50% surface water from the Missouri and 50% ground water to be used in the project. The Tribe filed protests and was met with obstacles all along the way. Tribal consultation was denied. The filings are in the appeal process now.
Bruce Ellison, attorney from Rapid City, interjected that during the 2013 hearings about Powertech, South Dakota State Water Management and Mining boards demanded that ALL federal permits be approved before the State would act.
Tom Brings of the Office of Historic Preservation for the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST), stated that OST is opposed to ALL mining in the Black Hills because of the destruction of the water, which Lakota believe is their first medicine.
OST was one of four tribes invited to participate in the cultural evaluation survey, which they refused to do because the government would only allow evaluation of selected areas.
Powertech has asked the EPA to stop staying permitting proceedings, but there have been NO tribal consultations. The case is before Environmental Appeals Board in the DC Court of Appeals.
“Powertech is lying to the State,” Brings said, in that they are saying that the EPA permitting process is completed.
As the meeting concluded, a massive anvil cloud was forming to the West that later pounded the area with hail, rain, and high winds.
And so, united water protectors continue to stand and fight against exploitative greed and government complicity.
Sources for this article:
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