Wharf expansion battle pits jobs vs. potential harm at Black Hills gold minePIERRE — The potential for environmental damage from acid rock drainage at four pits where Wharf Resources wants to expand its quest for additional gold ore permeated the first day of the state Board of Minerals and Environment’s hearing Wednesday.
By: Bob Mercer, The Daily Republic
PIERRE — The potential for environmental damage from acid rock drainage at four pits where Wharf Resources wants to expand its quest for additional gold ore permeated the first day of the state Board of Minerals and Environment’s hearing Wednesday.
Interveners Gary Heckenlaible of Rapid City and Bonnie Gestring of Missoula, Mont., who oppose the expansion permit, repeatedly invoked the specter that acid rock drainage could result from the additional mining proposed by Wharf.
They pointed to the acid problems at the Brohm mine that forced its shutdown a decade ago and turned it into a federal Superfund site that likely will require perpetual treatment of water there.
While Heckenlaible read through a list of violations by Wharf and fines totaling approximately $775,000 from 1984 through 2008, Gestring especially focused on the acid-rock drainage occurring at the Golden Reward mine that neighbors Wharf’s mine.
Wharf has taken over Golden Reward and wants to resume mining a small area along its western edge. Wharf ’s operations manager, Ken Nelson, said there is “very limited potential for ARD” in the proposed expansion areas. He repeatedly stressed Wharf hasn’t had any problems of its own with acid rock drainage.
He said part of Wharf’s expansion plan calls for installing an additional liner and more acid-buffering rock at Golden Reward as part of the new mining proposed there.
State Department of Environment and Natural Resources regulators support granting the expansion permit, but want numerous conditions attached, including eight that deal specifically with acid rock drainage.
Nelson told the board he agrees with all eight.
He said 19 tests conducted so far at the four sites don’t show problems and Wharf would need to reach agreement with DENR staff before mining could occur at those four specific areas.
The board has scheduled three days to receive testimony from mining company officials, consultants, state regulators and others regarding whether the only large-scale gold mine still operating in South Dakota should get an expansion permit for its site a few miles south of Lead just below Terry Peak.
The permit decision will effectively determine when mining stops for Wharf and its 150 employees.
Their current reserves in the American Eagle pit will run out in 2012 or 2013.
The expansion, which includes reentering some previously mined areas, including one pit that’s already been reclaimed, could extend Wharf’s operations another seven years or so, through at least 2019.
Final reclamation would be scheduled for completion in 2021 under the expansion plan.
Fourteen people spoke during the public-comment period prior to the hearing.
Only one spoke against the expansion.
He was Alan Aker, a Meade County commissioner and former state senator, who said Wharf recently informed him he no longer would be allowed to log under a three-year contract he had for Wharf property.
Aker didn’t criticize the expansion, but asked the board to consider requiring Wharf to honor existing surface-rights contracts. He said his company had logged for Wharf the past 20 years.
Among those speaking in favor were state Sen. Tom Nelson, who is the mayor of Lead, and Lawrence County Commission members Bob Ewing, Terry Weisenberg and Daryl Johnson.