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State ignores tribes on Pe Sla’ water for mining

This is a core sample drilled during exploration of 120 holes permitted by the State of South Dakota to Mineral Mining Resources (SD) Inc., a Canadian-owned gold company. Credit COURTESY / Mineral Mountain Resouces Ltd

This is a core sample drilled during exploration of 120 holes permitted by the State of South Dakota to Mineral Mining Resources (SD) Inc., a Canadian-owned gold company. Credit COURTESY / Mineral Mountain Resources Ltd

PIERRE – Rejecting tribal requests for local and formal hearings, the South Dakota Water Management Board on Oct. 4 granted a Canadian mining company a temporary permit renewal to use Rapid Creek water for exploration drilling near the native trust land of Pe’ Sla in the Black Hills.

The permit goes against the stated positions of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, Rosebud Sioux tribal chair, Yankton Sioux tribal chair, Oglala Sioux tribal administration, and individual Cheyenne River Sioux tribal members, all of whom submitted written arguments.

It also goes against other Rapid Creek stakeholders, including the South Dakota Division of the Isaac Walton League, who spoke at the board meeting.

All the tribal petitioners and some of their allies pled for the governor and state to rule on the permit application only after holding hearings in the affected area.

“The tribe respectfully requests that you demonstrate the state’s commitment to clean, safe drinking water in Rapid City and the Black Hills by calling upon the state Water Management Board to hold a hearing in Rapid City on this important question of whether to renew a permit to draw water,” Yankton Sioux Tribe Business & Claims Committee Chair Robert Flying Hawk said in a letter to Gov. Dennis Daugaard copied to the board.

Rosebud Sioux Tribal Chair Rodney Bordeaux put it this way in a letter to the governor copied to the board: “The Water Management Board has scheduled a hearing in Pierre, S.D., rather than Rapid City… We believe that the people in the affected area should be heard in the area where the water is impacted.”

This is the third time in two years that the Vancouver based Mineral Mountain Resources Ltd. has sought a temporary permit for the free use of water from Rapid Creek, which rises in the northern Black Hills and flows through Rapid City, providing crucial habitat, recreation, irrigation and drinking supplies in the vicinity of western South Dakota’s largest population center.

The state’s chief engineer for water rights, Jeanne Goodman, referred the permit decision to the governor’s Water Management Board appointees after the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association and the Pennington County Board of Commissioners requested earlier this year that public hearings be held locally on any further permit applications from the company.

Nonetheless, water management set the meeting in the state capital of Pierre. Goodman recommended granting the permit through Dec. 31, and all commissioners present voted yes, except Tim Bjork.

The permit allows withdrawal from Rapid Creek of up to a total 880,000 gallons at a peak pump rate of 200 gallons per minute and daily rate of 10,000 gallons.

“The proposed use will not interfere with or adversely affect prior appropriations or vested rights,” Goodman said in her reasoning for the recommendation. However, she warned:

The company’s wholly owned subsidiary Mineral Mountain Resources (SD) Inc. “will need to file an application and obtain a standard water permit if water use is anticipated to continue beyond Dec. 31, 2018, because the use of water for a multi-year project is beyond the intent of temporary permitting.”

Company contractors have punched and plugged nine of the 120 exploration holes the state has permitted them for prospecting in a 7,500-acre area of unceded 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty territory surrounding the historic former Standby Mine on the outskirts of Rochford in Pennington County.

Prospectors vow they will prove “North America’s Largest Gold Discovery” and promise it could produce the equivalent in pay-dirt of the record-setting, now defunct nearby Homestake Gold Mine.

To proceed with an application for a standard water permit, they will have to submit to a contested case hearing, if requested, which it almost surely will be.

Cheyenne River Sioux tribal members with homes and property in Rapid City lost a state Circuit Court appeal for such a hearing on the previous temporary permit and also failed in their petition for a contested hearing at the Water Management Board on this latest application.

Petitioners A. Gay Kingman, Steven C. Emery, James Picotte And Robin Zephier argued that “issuance of a temporary water permit for gold exploration in the Black Hills is contrary to the public interest.”

They said that “the proposed water use and gold exploration will pollute or otherwise adversely affect the land, natural resources, and water in the Black Hills and will pollute or otherwise adversely affect the flow of water in Rapid Creek, which feeds Pactola Reservoir, which is the largest reservoir in the Black Hills and provides drinking water to residents and persons who visit Rapid City, South Dakota, and the proposed water use and gold exploration will cause noise and disruption and interfere with the solitude of the Black Hills.”

They noted that the exploration permit describes scattering of drill cuttings, which likely would entail pyrite oxidation generating sulfuric acid. They recalled that the company polluted Battle Creek with an illegal spill of drilling fluids while exploring near Keystone’s historic Holy Terror Mine.

They added that the United States, the State of South Dakota, and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe sued Homestake Mining Co. to stop the environmental harm from that gold operation, which made a Superfund site out of Whitewood Creek.

“Petitioners do not want a similar situation to develop on Rapid Creek,” they said. “These prior experiences indicate that the state Water Management Board should have a public hearing in Rapid City on any proposal for gold mining along Rapid City’s main source of drinking water.”

The Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Natural Resources Regulatory Agency noted that the Black Hills has another active

Superfund site as the result of past gold mining at the Gilt Edge Mine adjacent to the Homestake Gold Mine.

“The proposed exploration and mining would take place in the Rapid Creek Watershed, and downstream contamination is a possibility and a reality for many of its users in the Johnson Siding, Dark Canyon, and Rapid City communities,” Natural Resources Director Kyle White wrote the Water Management Board.

Company attorney Matthew Naasz countered that the most recent drill site was nowhere near polluting the creek because it was on the other side of a hill from there. He said the company has been trucking in water from the city of Lead ever since withdrawing its previous request in April for a state water permit.

The renewal now will speed up work, allowing drillers to operate two shifts a day instead of the previous one, Naasz pointed out.

White complained: “The proposed 24-hour operation exploration by MMR would generate increased traffic, as well as light and noise pollution to home owners and Lakota tradition community members who continue to practice our culture and spirituality at Pe’ Sla, which is approximately four miles from the proposed mine site.

“For the Oceti Sakowin, Pe’ Sla is the heart of the Black Hills and the center of the universe and can been seen in the stars. It is an important site for our people, and prayers and ceremonies are performed throughout the spring, summer, and fall months,” he said.

The exploration “may even make our access to Pe’ Sla and religious practices impossible. Our religious practices are guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution through P.L. 95-341 also known as the American Indian Religious Freedom Act 1978,” he added.

White requested the state initiate government-to-government consultation with the tribes regarding the project.

Nemo resident Carol Hayse, who lives within 12 miles from the drilling expected to resume in about a week under the new permit, reminded board members that the permit decision impacts long-term plans for mining, not just current prospecting.

“This is about the health of the Black Hills in the area around Pe’ Sla. Your acts have consequences, not just until Dec. 31,” she said.

Naasz insisted that the board could only consider the issue of the temporary water permit. His position is backed by a South Dakota State Attorney’s Office opinion.

Commissioners Bjork and Everett Hoyt noted the peculiar “piecemeal” nature of the permitting process and concern “about the lack of public participation.”

Rural Rapid Creek resident Bruce Ellison observed: “It is not in the public interest to give a foreign company our waters for really any uses without greater public input.

(Contact Talli Nauman at

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