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(SD)-Strong Turnout Sat For Hot Springs Hearing On EPA Permits For Uranium Mine

By: John Axtell Posted at: 10/07/2019 01:09 PM
HOT SPRINGS - Nearly 80 people took advantage of the opportunity Saturday to testify Saturday the EPA hearing in Hot Springs on licenses and a waiver for the proposed Dewey Burdock uranium mine north of Edgemont. The EPA scheduled 7-hours of comments, but extended the time a few minutes to get in all of the individuals who registered to speak and were present.

      The crowd ebbed and flowed from around 30 to about 70 during the sessions that ran from 9:00-till-noon and 2:00-till-6:00, but the speakers - limited to a maximum of 5 minutes - went on non-stop, except for a trio of breaks

     All the speakers opposed the permits and waiver for the project first proposed a decade ago by Powertech Uranium, now part of Canadian-based Azarga Uranium - a company characterized by several speakers as owned by the Russian and Chinese governments.

       Katherine Hall, the judicial officer for the EPA's Region 8 office in Denver, made it clear at the beginning that the hearing was strictly for public comments on the revised permits for the project's injection mining wells and up to 4 disposal wells for treated waste as well as an aquifer waiver, with no questions for the 2 EPA regional officials present.

      The comments fell into several general categories. Many speakers simply talked about the importance of the water that would be tapped for mining or be potentially contaminated by the drilling, warning that the impacts could extend far down the Missouri-Mississippi River system.

       Others focused on what they called the dismal record of injection mining systems, both in terms of frequency of spills or leaks and their failure to fully restore aquifers used for mining to their pre-mining quality.

     The EPA was praised by some for coming to Hot Springs to hear what the people had to say while others condemned the agency for failing to follow or enforce a variety of laws. Some of the attacks were aimed at the agency's top officials, but some were directed at the regional staffers present - including a question of "how do you sleep at night?"

       Many accused Azarga-Powertech of using the Dewey Burdock project as a smokescreen to obtain the EPA permits with the disposal wells now their true target with no intention to mine uranium.  Several questioned the need for 4 disposal wells when the Crow Butte mine near Crawford has only one, and they worried Azarga would bring in toxic waste of all types from all around the world.

     Another frequent topic was Native American treaty rights covering the region, and the failure of the EPA to conduct a survey to determine if sites of cultural, historical, or religious significance to Native Americans would be impacted - choosing instead to rely on a survey done by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that was attacked as being far from adequate.

     Some speakers warned that there would be protests similar to those against the Dakota Access pipeline should the EPA permits be granted with one warning "respect us or expect us." Longtime activist Regina Brave said she was taking the federal government and its agencies to the World Court in Switzerland over treaty violations - calling those violations "treason."

     Afterward, EPA Region 8 media officer Lisa McClain-Vanderpool said she and her colleagues who came to Hot Springs were pleased with the strong turnout and imput, adding that the 7-plus hours was the right length for such a hearing. She also said no timetable has been set for a decision.

      The Dewey Burdock project is also waiting on a decision expected later this year from the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, which held a multi-day formal hearing in Rapid City this summer on a challenge from the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the cultural-historical-religious site survey.

      The project also needs state permits, but hearings on those won't be held unless both sets of federal permits are granted.


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