Hot Springs, SD
It was a full house at the Fall River County Courthouse Monday morning as commissioners heard from both supporters and opponents of a proposed uranium mine near Edgemont.
"This is a half-billion dollar project. This is a big project that's going to employ over 100 people in a very rural, small part of South Dakota," Dewey Burdock Project Manager Mark Hollenbeck said.
Hollenbeck is the manager for the Dewey Burdock Project, which could begin mining as early as next year.
"It's rich in uranium. We've produced uranium here before. We're looking at doing it again with much newer technology, much less invasive technology and much safer technology," Hollenbeck said.
But with the mine sitting atop two area aquifers, many community members are concerned about the operation polluting their water supply.
"That's what supplies our ranch, so if that water were to be contaminated we would actually have thousands of acres of land that can't produce anything," rancher Cindy Brunson said.
Mine supporters contend that water in one of the aquifers in question, the Inyan Kara, already contains unsafe levels of radiation and that the deeper Madison Aquifer is protected by natural barriers.
But because of the highly-technical knowledge needed to grasp the risks, the Fall River County Commission voted to oppose the mine's water usage rights until it can further prove that it's a safe operation.
"I think it's a step in the right direction. I know we all need to do more research," Brunson said.
"We believe that we will meet all the conditions of the Fall River County Commission and they will eventually support our permit," Hollenbeck said.
And with the permitting process continuing on both the state and federal level, it's a fight that is far from over.
If approved, the mine would have an expected life of 20 years. The project still needs approval from the state of South Dakota, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.