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Lawrence County Commission Delays Deadwood Standard Project Mine Permit

I'm at Deadwood City Hall, covering the Lawrence County Commission hearing on the Deadwood Standard Project proposal to mine for gold in Spearfish Canyon. I've been Tweeting public comment from proponents and opponents... Only to have Twitter go bonkers on me as we get to DSP's rebuttal time. Grrr, technology!

The mining company spent an hour this morning presenting data on its procedures and on environmental concerns. In a nutshell, the company says the mining waste won't get out, the noise won't be noticeable, and this mine won't make the mistakes of other companies. Local proponents say the Deadwood Standard Project will generate big economic benefits, with high wages, job opportunities for folks who've had to move away to make a living, and big local spending. Among the big business supporters is GCC Dacotah, which expects to sell truckloads of cement to the gold mine.

Spearfish Canyon homeowners following Lawrence County Commission's decision to postpone action on Deadwood Standard Project, Deadwood, South Dakota, August 21, 2012
These Spearfish Canyon homeowners oppose the Deadwood Standard Project's proposed gold mine in the canyon. The Lawrence County Commission decided this afternoon to postpone action on DSP's conditional use permit application until the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has studied the proposed mine and issued its recommendations. Pictured left to right outside Deadwood City Hall after the meeting: Beverly Shaw, Gene Shaw, Michael Goodroad, Roberta Noel, and Bob Noel.

Opponents have spoken passionately about the inevitability of accidents and the irreparability of lost water, wildlife, and beauty in the Canyon. Charmaine White Face of Defenders of the Black Hills noted the absence of any discussion of protection for sacred Lakota sites throughout the Canyon, many of which are kept secret to prevent exploitation. Rebecca Leas from Rapid City said she's seen in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere that mining and tourism don't go together. And the local Audubon chief Nancy Hilding said the commission should reject the application based on missing documents (and does yeoman debater work citing page numbers!).

The DSP attorney just finished reiterating his recognition that the commission likely will not grant approval today and his concomitant request that the commission today either delay or grant a conditional approval pending state approval. Stay tuned: commission discussion and decision coming up!

Update: Note that this meeting was scheduled to run from 10:30 to 12:00. Proponent testimony alone ran past noon. Commision chair Bob Ewing now officially closes public testimony at 14:00. The Commission recesses to let the stenographer stretch her fingers.

--14:45 MDT: USGS expert now talking about hydrology of Spearfish Canyon: heavy science! Now's the time when you want really smart county commissioners.

Mike Cepak from DENR is now taking questions about the environmental condition of the Ragged Top area. He says we're not seeing major issues from the area now aside from sedimentation. Cepak says DSP has at least one year of baseline data it still has to get to get state approval; even if Lawrence County approves DSP today, no state approval for mining could happen until October 2013 at the earliest.

--Commissioners finally are discussing the issue. Much of the discussion is about unanswered questions and the need for more information from DSP amd state experts.

--And the official motion is to accept the applicant's waiver of the 45-day limit to act on the Conditional Use Permit. Motion passes.

DSP wants a hard date due for further commission action, like November, but commissioners are balking....

Now moved to postpone decision until DENR provides report and recommendation: passes 4-1, no from Flanagan. Practically, this means the county does not act on this permit for another year.


  1. larry kurtz 2012.08.21

    RT @coralhei Indeed, raising bond amount won't help ifcompany has folded. #dsp

  2. grudznick 2012.08.21

    Talk about overreachin interferin gubbermint! Those guys are worse than the thrift shop committee in Madison with all their meddlin with folks' righteous bidness.

    I hope they dig lots over the next year in defiance of the ban!!!

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.08.21

    Thanks, Larry! Also send props to the Republican commissioners of Lawrence County, who stared down calls for Jobs Jobs Jobs in a macho industry deeply ingrained in the local culture and said, "Not so fast."

  4. larry kurtz 2012.08.21

    CAH: do you get the sense that Flanagan's vote was procedural or for some other reason: he's a Dem, right?

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.08.21

    Impossible to tell, Larry: Flanagan was Skyping in, so I could only hear the voice, not watch any body language or get any other impressions. And nope: all five commissioners are Republicans (at least according to the 2010 and 2012 election results).

  6. Donald Pay 2012.08.21

    I just want to second the shout out to the county commissioners, and point out that a number of prominent Republicans were the first to oppose heap leach gold mining in the late 1980s. This has always been an issue that has generated bipartisan concern.

  7. Donald Pay 2012.08.21

    I'm going to suggest that the likely result is that DENR will approve a permit with conditions.

    The county commissioners shouldn't necessarily think that that approval alone means much. Why? The key are the conditions the company has to meet in order to mine.

    DENR can impose some very tough conditions, if it thinks they are necessary. The conditions can be so tough, in fact, that the company may balk at mining.

    I never would have thought this in 1987, but it is very risky for DENR to recommend denial, given the long-standing pro-mining stance of the Board of Minerals and Environment. I think it is better for DENR to propose approval with very tough condition than to oppose the permit. Here's why: DENR has three legal options--approve a permit, approve with conditions or deny the permit.

    The original Wharf permit was issue by the Board of Minerals and Environment despite the fact that the DENR recommended to deny the permit. As a result the original Wharf permit was issued without any conditions.

    I have argued that state law needs to provide a fourth option to DENR--deny the permit but attach conditions if approved. That way if the Board of Minerals and Environment issues the permit despite the DENR recommendation, the conditions attach to the permit. So, there's a suggestion for a bill. Another would be to have a neutral hearing officer, rather than the Board of Minerals and Environment, make the decision.

  8. nancy hilding 2012.08.22

    Don - Where in statute?

    your quote.

    "I have argued that state law needs to provide a fourth option to DENR–deny the permit but attach conditions if approved. That way if the Board of Minerals and Environment issues the permit despite the DENR recommendation, the conditions attach to the permit. So, there’s a suggestion for a bill. Another would be to have a neutral hearing officer, "rather than the Board of Minerals and Environment, make the decision.

  9. larry kurtz 2012.08.22

    This isn't the first rodeo for these commissioners: the 80's brought LawCo to its knees over mining when Daryl Johnson was still a Democrat.

    Odd that DD just named new members to the Board of Minerals and Environment: just as GFP and commissioners have become just another rubber stamp for the Governors Club, DENR used to be a voice for the people, too.

    Don, you've been watching the legislature in the chemical toilet: hard to imagine how giving up local control to a gutted environmental agency is going to protect any watershed.

  10. Lee Schoenbeck 2012.08.22

    thanks for the coverage and updates - Spearfish Canyon is a jewel

  11. larry kurtz 2012.08.22

    officially anyway, right, Lee? be sure to vote to gut public comment on uranium again, K?

  12. Donald Pay 2012.08.22


    I can't remember the details. It would be in the mining chapter--45-6 whatever, or in the hearings section (Chapter 1, or sections on hearings for DENR, or perhaps it's in regulation (not in statute). The BME has power to propose conditions, but without a recommendation from staff, they would likely be piss poor. Now maybe BME could issue a permit subject to conditions they would have staff propose at a continued hearing. I'm sure there are ways round it, but Townsend told me once the safest thing is to propose a permit with conditions. The first Wharf permit, issued after a recommendation of denial, had no conditions.

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