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Permit delayed for proposed Black Hills gold mine

RAPID CITY (AP) -- Lawrence County commissioners have delayed a permit for a proposed gold mine that would be built near Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota's Black Hills.

The media reports that commissioners on Monday cited the need to further study the mine plan. The commission will take up the conditional use permit application again on Aug. 21.

The Deadwood Standard Project wants to extract gold six miles west of Lead. The site is just east of Spearfish Canyon, but the conditional use permit being sought calls for a 500-foot buffer from the rim of the canyon.

During Monday's special commission meeting, residents of Spearfish Canyon turned out in force to protest the proposed mine.

Water contamination worried residents the most. They feared that any leak would percolate through the limestone rock, infiltrating Spearfish Creek and groundwater sources.

Residents also expressed concerns about the new vat leach processing system, which they described as untested.

"We don't know where the problems are going to occur," said Gene Shaw, president of Spearfish Canyon Owners Association. "That makes it a new method of mining and an experiment. And we don't want to be an experiment in Spearfish Canyon."

Spearfish Canyon Owners Association members said of they were major property tax contributors to local governments and a decline in their property values would mean less money for government coffers.

Project partner Mark Nelson defended the proposal, saying environmental experts were helping design the project to make it "the most environmentally responsible gold mine today in the area."

He laid out the economic benefits of the project, including 40 to 60 full-time mining jobs paying an average of $52,000 per year.

"Mining jobs are skilled jobs and we have a lot of people in Lawrence County with those skills that are either unemployed or underemployed not using those skills," Nelson said.

Tom Nelson, a Lawrence County state senator, the mayor of Lead and president of the Deadwood Gaming Association, touted the potential economic benefits of the project.

Deadwood Mayor Francis Toscana said the mine would bring needed jobs to the county.

"Jobs like this are important for us to keep our young people here in Lawrence County and in South Dakota," he said.

But opponents said the county might be taking a gamble with their land, water and canyon.

"If you want to gamble come to Deadwood, go to the blackjack tables, the poker tables, the slot machines. Your odds are a lot better," resident Dick Forte said.