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OPINION: Rapid council shows strength in anti-mining resolution

While ultimately only symbolic, it's good to see a local government body such as the Rapid City Council take a strong stand on an issue of statewide and regional import.

With its approval last week of a resolution opposing proposed uranium mining in western South Dakota, the council sent a clear message that its members almost unanimously are opposed to the in-situ uranium mining the company Powertech wants to begin near Edgemont.

Even though in the end it will be the federal government that will regulate the mining, the 9-1 council vote to pass the resolution opposing the current mining proposal shows locals are keeping a close eye on things.

The council action comes after state lawmakers and the governor in 2011 abdicated their rights to oversee mining by passing a bill that suspended the state's power to permit and directly regulate the injection-extraction well system Powertech wants to use to mine uranium.

The measure passed by lawmakers, and signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, left that part of permitting and oversight to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. An effort to revisit the issue last spring was rejected; the state retains its right to regulate water use, however.

But Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker, who urged passage of the resolution, and other council members say they have unanswered questions about water use and other parts of the project. The proposed in-situ mining operation would take place 80 miles away near Edgemont, but project critics fear it could contaminate the Madison Aquifer, which provides drinking water for most of the Black Hills and Rapid City.

Before the vote, a handful of city officials accepted an invitation from Mark Hollenbeck, who is the lead Powertech pitchman for the project, to see his presentation on the proposed mining. That presentation essentially states that in-situ mining is a closed system that has very little risk of contamination and uses very little drinkable water.

But council members were not fully able to get past questions about drinking-water safety and worries over who would take responsibility for any mishaps that might occur.

The majority of the council voted to oppose the mining with a resolution that expressed its "grave concern" about the potential for problems. Numerous residents appeared at those council hearings to express their deep concern over the mining and its possible negative outcomes.

While the Journal at this time has not taken a firm position for or against the proposed uranium-mining operation, we do commend the Rapid City Council for using its voice as the second-largest city in South Dakota to express its concerns and send a message that the council, as well as to thousands of others in West River, that it will be watching closely what happens at the upcoming mining permit hearing and the operations of the mining firm if the process commences.

-Rapid City Journal