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Mining project wins legislative fight

PIERRE — The Powertech uranium mining project should not face additional requirements for underground water protection, a legislative panel decided Thursday.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted 10-2 to reject a measure sought by Dakota Rural Action and others opposed to Powertech’s plan.

“I want you to know I have a clear understanding of the value of water. But I also value science,” said Rep. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center.

The legislation sought to require any in situ mine to first conduct a restoration demonstration to prove that wastewater will not reduce quality of groundwater at the site.

The prime sponsor was Rep. Troy Heinert, D-Mission. “This is a huge issue,” he told the committee at the conclusion of the second day of hearings on the measure, HB 1193.

Sabrina King, lobbyist for Dakota Rural Action, said in situ mining does not carry the same regulations and protections as mining above ground.

“We require the land to be reclaimed. Why wouldn’t we require the water to be reclaimed?” she asked.

In situ mining involves injecting a water-based solution through wells into underground ore deposits to dissolve the minerals. The mineral-laden solution is then recovered through another set of wells and the minerals are removed.

Powertech intends to use the in situ process to take uranium from the Dewey-Burdock area in southwestern South Dakota.

Project manager Mark Hollenbeck, who ranches there, spoke against the additional requirement. He said it would add fi ve years to the start of the project, which has been in the permitting stage since 2008.

“This bill does nothing to protect the environment,” he said. Hollenbeck said the sandstone formation bearing the uranium is between two layers of shale. “So it’s sealed on the top and it’s sealed on the bottom.”