S.D. agency seeks to own Superfund site

Capitol News Bureau
KELO pierre capitol building

This is a developing story.

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — State government wants to buy the last remaining parcels of public land at a Black Hills gold mine that closed two decades ago because it was hurting the environment.

The Gilt Edge Mine, located some 4 miles south of Lead and Deadwood, shut down because its rock, when exposed to air, produced millions of gallons of acid-laden water that threatened Strawberry Creek.

There also was water pollution found in the area from heavy metals such as arsenic and cadmium.

The then-operator, Brohm Mining Company, declared bankruptcy in July 1999 after a failed attempt to expand onto adjacent U.S. Forest Service land.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency since August 2000 has spent millions of dollars on water treatment and rehabilitation work.

The site went on the EPA Superfund list in 2000. Much work remains before it can come off.

A 2005 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concluded the fenced location posed “no apparent public health hazard” at the time.

The U.S. Forest Service owns the 266 acres that state government now wants to buy. An act of Congress is necessary for the transaction.

The local governments for Lead, Deadwood and Lawrence County recently approved letters supporting the state’s proposed purchase.

Starting in 2001, state government has gradually acquired most of the Superfund site and some neighboring area.

There now are some 1,269 acres in state ownership, with 977 acres inside the Superfund boundary and about 292 acres outside.

The Gilt Edge Mine itself is 360 acres within the 1,328-acre Superfund area.

If Congress green-lights the sale, next steps call for the state to get a survey and then to use an official appraisal to determine the amount the Forest Service will receive.

One of state government’s first purchases at the Gilt Edge was 33 acres from the U.S. Forest Service for $10,600, according to state School and Public Lands Commissioner Ryan Brunner.

He said the state’s purchase of about 10 acres there last year from a private owner cost $19,856.86.

Other lands inside the Superfund site were obtained by state government at no cost, according to Brunner, as parties settled debts to the federal government.

Brunner said the proposed Forest Service transaction could be patterned on federal legislation that was introduced to acquire land for Custer airport.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources is acquiring land at Gilt Edge in preparation for when DENR will be fully in charge of upkeep, according to spokesman Brian Walsh.

“The state is required by Superfund law to assure EPA that any institutional controls established as part of the cleanup will remain in place when the state takes over responsibility of the site,” Walsh told KELOLAND News in a written response.

“Institutional controls used at the site could be easements, zoning, covenants, restrictions, et cetera. The state’s ability to exercise institutional controls on federal land is limited so, to help meet this requirement, the state has worked to acquire ownership and control of the property within the Superfund boundary,” Walsh continued.

About 85 acres of land would remain privately owned within the boundary. Walsh said state government doesn’t plan to buy that remainder.

“The next phase of the project will be to fill in the three pits and cap them.  This will be done as EPA gets funding from congressional appropriations,” Walsh said.

State government has been responsible for 10% of the cleanup so far, with the federal government paying 90%. KELOLAND News has requested those amounts.

“After closure, the State of South Dakota is required to take over 100% of the responsibility of site operation and maintenance, including water collection, water treatment and implementation of institutional controls to ensure the effectiveness of the cleanup actions and minimize future environmental impacts,” Walsh said.

An outside company, Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd., is conducting tests at the site, trying to learn more about sources of cadmium in Strawberry Creek.

Said Walsh, “They have completed the drilling and plugging of the majority of their study boreholes, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the drilling schedule. A new schedule is currently being developed and DENR anticipates drilling will resume this fall.”

Another 5-year review of the Superfund site by EPA is required by June 2022. Here is the 5-year review from June 2017.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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