PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The company seeking to start mining uranium in western South Dakota through a water-intensive process known as in-situ wants a state board to resume considering three of its permit applications after an eight-year break, the project manager for Powertech USA said Wednesday.
“I assume we’ll file the motions within a month that we’ll get the motions out there, and I don’t know how long it will take to go ahead and get the hearing scheduled,” Mark Hollenbeck told KELOLAND News.
“Powertech has been involved in permitting this project for approximately 15 years. We put this permitting on hold at the state level to get our federal permits. So in the last eight years or so, we’ve got our federal permitting approved. So we decided to come back to the state and continue to work on our state permits,” Hollenbeck said.
Hollenbeck arrived at the meeting location about 10 minutes after the state Water Management Board had received a status update from Rapid City lawyers for the project. “We’re here this morning to formally make the board aware that we intend to proceed with the water permit applications and approval of the groundwater discharge plan Powertech USA,” Matt Naasz said.
The state board agreed in 2013 to suspend action on the state permits and grant a continuance until after the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made decisions on Powertech’s applications for federal permits.
Naasz said the two federal agencies have issued permits and made determinations of financial assurance regarding Powertech’s applications.
“Those permits are currently working their way through the appeals process. The issuance of those permits effectuated the goal of Powertech’s motion to continue, which was to narrow the issues before this board. Because those permits have been issued, Powertech intends as I’ve said to move forward with the state permitting process that’s in front of the Water Management Board,” Naasz said.
The company’s intent is to file a motion for a scheduling order “soon” that would establish dates for resumption of state proceedings, according to Naasz. He said there likely will be issues that need to be decided preliminarily. “Our thought on that is those issues can be decided after they are fully briefed, with hearing properly noticed, for determination of those issues,” Naasz said.
But another Rapid City lawyer, Bruce Ellison, representing some opponents, wanted to engage the board in further talks. He participated by teleconference.
The board’s attorney, David McVey, responded that the different sides will have the opportunity to be fully heard at a later time. “But here, as a practical matter, they (Powertech) can file whatever motion that they want to file. We don’t really have, we wouldn’t be able to take a position on that. Whether those motions will be granted is a different question,” McVey said.
Ellison said he thought the purpose of the discussion was similar to one the state Board of Minerals and Environment held a few months ago on Powertech’s applications for various state permits. He said the minerals board understood that Powertech’s “matters were far from complete” at the federal level and the only commitment was a future status hearing.
Ellison said the EPA is wondering what Powertech’s status is at the state level. He said EPA is considering critical issues such as wells and that the state water management board’s order continued the matter specifically until there was resolution at the federal level.
“We’re years away from those,” Ellison said.
Board chairman Jim Hutmacher of Oacoma told Ellison Powertech had the right to file a motion and so did Ellison. “That does not necessarily mean any of the motions are going to be granted, but they have that right to do that and we are not going to debate that issue (of) whether they have that right or not to file that motion today,” Hutmacher said.
Ellison asked for a hearing. Responded Hutmacher, “You will get notice of the motions as they are presented to the board and the board’s attorney — and you.”
Earlier in the meeting, one person, Gena Parkhurst, used the public-comment period to speak against the project. “I’m here as a concerned homeowner in Rapid City, concerned about the water quantity and quality if this Powertech project should go forth. And reading over the literature I got in the mail, it seems to me that Powertech doesn’t have all the permits it needs in order to proceed with the state hearing process,” Parkhurst said.
Powertech’s attorney Naasz said the state minerals board had conditioned further action on the state water management board, so Powertech would proceed accordingly. At the national level, opposition groups have appealed a federal permit decision. Opposition attorney Ellison said the state board shouldn’t proceed until the appeal is decided.
Hollenbeck offered the company’s take afterward. “The opposition to the project are trying to use ‘death by delay’ and so they have continued to appeal to every possible method they could. To date, they’ve virtually lost every appeal,” he said.
Hollenbeck added, “I just think the time is right for this project with the concern about climate change. This is a carbon-free energy source and people that are truly concerned about the environment need to be supporting this project and nuclear power.”