EDGEMONT --A series of public comment hearings hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 ended with the final hearing on May 11th in Edgemont.
Edgemont, located in the southern Black Hills, is no stranger to uranium mining. Uranium, used to fuel nuclear power plants, was found near Edgemont in 1952 before modern environmental regulations were enacted. Decades of open pit mining followed until the mid-1980s, when mines were abandoned because of declining uranium prices.
Domestic wells near the abandoned mines already have been found to contain levels of radium- 226 that exceed safe drinking water standards, and one of those also has dangerous levels of uranium. Other findings of the preliminary assessment include radionuclides in surface water samples from Pass Creek, Beaver Creek and the Cheyenne River.
30 years later, a new company, Powertech, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Hong Kong based Azarga Uranium, seeks to revive uranium mining in the same region.
Powertech has spent the last 11 years trying to get the Dewey Burdock Uranium Mine operation running and anticipates EPA approval in 2017, according to Mark Hollenbeck, Project Manager of the Dewey Burdock Uranium Mine for Powertech.
Powertech plans to use 888.8 acre-foot of groundwater per year from the Madison aquifer to replace the groundwater removed from the Inyan Kara aquifers by uranium recovery operations and ground water restoration activities.
However, mining opponents have been steadfast to stop the project in the drought-prone region, citing the dangers to the public health, land and water. Rallies have been staged in each location of the public hearings.
Tonya Stands of Oglala, is the rally organizer and member of No Uranium in Treaty Territory.
“We collaborated with the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance, Dakota Rural Action, Sisterhood to Protect Sacred Water and others to spread the word about the EPA hearings and educate people about water protection, through providing meals and prayer walks,” stated Stands.
11-year old Isaiah Cox of Hot Springs skipped his class field trip to Evan’s Plunge to attend the hearing.
“I went to the hearing in Hot Springs and that got me interested. So, I came here today to voice my opinion. Farmers need water. Animals and plants need clean water. This mine will hurt our water,” stated Cox.
Hollenbeck, along with a few local retired uranium miners, attended the hearing and set out to dispel the public’s fears.
“We only add oxygen and carbon dioxide to extract the uranium. So, what we extract from the ground is all we put back into the ground. There is a misconception that this water is good. Its bad water to begin with. We can’t drink it today. It’s not going to be exactly the same, but will be as useful as it was,” noted Hollenbeck.
Hollenbeck is also a certified organic grass-fed cattle rancher who runs his herd near the mine site and feels confident that his livestock is safe for human consumption.
Judy Schumacher of Provo Township disagrees.
“I grew up on a ranch near Buffalo SD. Our black cows would turn white and die from drinking from puddles where the uranium test drilling had been done back in the 1950’s-60’s. I am a cancer survivor and my daughter had cancer at age 22. You cannot clean up radiation in the water. I want to hear how Powertech is going to guarantee that this is safe,” stated Schumacher.
Debra White Plume (Oglala Lakota) of Porcupine SD, addressed the EPA officials.
“You’re not the first peace commission to come out here. One came 149 years ago and negotiated the 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty and the 1851 Horse Creek Treaty with our ancestors. That treaty retained a land base and water rights for the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapahoe nations. I don’t want you to allow Azarga to encroach on our ancestral territory. The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People says that governments must have free, prior and informed consent of Native Peoples before they bring development in and we were not given that,” stated White Plume.
White Plume is the lead plaintiff in the case to stop Cameco Corporation’s uranium mine expansion near Crawford NE. Radioactive waste leaked for 4 years before it was detected at that mine site, according to White Plume.
EPA officials noted that it will take several weeks to review the written and public testimonials before they reach their determination on Powertech’s permits. Published first at Lakota Country Times. Republished at Censored News with permission. ==============================