By John D. Taylor
HOT SPRINGS – Edgemont anti-uranium mining activist Susan Henderson approached the Fall River County commissioners with concerns about how uranium mining and a county landfill accepting oil field wastes could – and she believes is – affecting the county’s water resources and its two main industries, agriculture and tourism, at their Tuesday, Nov. 3 meeting.
Henderson began by asking the commissioners if they’d seen the five-part series The Rapid City Journal was running on uranium mining and its influence on the Edgemont area. Some commissioners had seen the articles, some had not.
Henderson said the articles were an excellent source of history on uranium mining and its impacts on Edgemont, and a “sad story.”
She outlined how outside companies reaped “hundreds of millions of dollars” from Edgemont while leaving behind a mess that is currently being considered for an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site. Superfund sites are among the most drastically polluted areas in the U.S.
She talked about the Dewey – Burdock area, and how the Darrow Mine left behind tailing ponds 100 feet across and contaminated with water that is producing gamma rays, and how this is ultimately putting arsenic and radioactive elements into Beaver Creek and similar tributaries that flow into the Cheyenne River waterway.
“This will ultimately result in hundreds of millions of dollars in clean-up problems,” Henderson said, “and you [the county] will be forced to participate. I want you to read those articles. You can no longer put your head in the sand and ignore the dumping.”
Henderson continued, noting how the Custer – Fall River County landfill has accepted 100 tons of oilfield waste, also from Wyoming and North Dakota’s Bakken region oil and gas plays; how it cost $860,000 to expand this landfill to accept this waste, and how this was paid for through state loans and tipping fees. Now companies are now hauling in more oil and gas field waste, she said.
“This is so dangerous to agriculture and tourism,” she said. “I can’t imagine how you’d allow this. You backed this in the past, and you need to educate yourselves to how this ruined Edgemont, how people had colon, breast and other cancers. My sister-in-law died at 38 of cancer.”
“Radiation from uranium never goes away,” she said. “It has a half-life that is older than the Earth. Once it’s here, you’ll always have it. It will get to the point where there’s no water and it won’t be safe to live here any more.”
Henderson requested that the county tell her what’s going on with dumping sites, and investigate the Custer- Fall River County landfill. She also asked the commissioners tell her what the county’s intentions were with renewed interest in in situ uranium mining in Edgemont.
“I want to know if you’re contemplating doing this with the mines. And I want your commitment that you’ll read these well-researched articles,” she said.
The commission members did not comment or reply to Henderson’s requests.
“Thanks,” said president Deb Russell to Henderson.
In other business, Hot Springs school Superintendent Kevin Coles and Mayor Cindy Donnell asked the commissioners if they would like to participate, along with the city and school district, in the acquisition of a school resource officer (SRO).
Coles and Donnell said the school district and the city were interested doing this because both believe they need an SRO.
Donnell said she saw the SRO as a “huge benefit,” a positive role model for students and a vehicle to establish relationships with students that might lead to students staying out of trouble, instead of escalating “at-risk” behaviors.
Coles agreed, saying he liked to solve small problems to prevent them from becoming larger issues. He also saw the SRO as being able to create a safer school environment for everyone, so learning could take place. In a school environment where everyone is worried about their safety, he told the commissioners, learning is stymied. He believes an SRO would be the best way to create this safer environment, because he is not trained in law enforcement or restraint – things an SRO could handle.
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The commissioners had several concerns about participating: Would an SRO be available only at Hot Springs, when there are three school districts across the county, wondered Russell? What benefit would the county receive from the SRO, when the county is faced with all the costs of dealing with students who engage in “at-risk” behaviors, including law enforcement, court costs, social services, incarceration, etc. asked Commissioner Mike Ortner. What would an SRO do in the summer, when school is not in session? Donnell said the SRO might work for the city police force, but the commissioners wanted the SRO to be part of the sheriff’s department. Also, the commissioners wanted more solid information on what this would cost the county.
Donnell said that while her focus was the city, she was open to any mutually agreeable discussion that the city, country school district might begin in order to acquire an SRO.
Cole said he understood the county’s desire to “get a bang for its buck.” He told the commissioners the school board approved a $13,000 input into the SRO’s salary. He and Donnell suggested a three-way split on this, with $13,000 each from the city, the county and the schools. He also promised to return to the board with additional figures and costs on this idea.
Also, the commissioners:
•Heard from GIS Coordinator Stacy Martin. Martin said she’s been receiving calls about wind turbines and solar energy companies wanting to come to Fall River County. Previously, the calls were mostly from people just “fishing” for information about zoning and regulations for building wind and solar energy facilities.
However, a recent call was from a person who was “more than just fishing” about bringing a large-scale wind turbine farm to Fall River County.
Martin said she didn’t want the county to be “blind-sided” by this because the county doesn’t have any zoning regulations for this.
Martin expected that within the next two to five years, wind or solar “farms” would be established here, and told the commissioners she wanted to make sure these businesses were reputable, because energy companies are often “wildcatters” who “go belly up all the time.”
Commissioner Joe Falkenburg said such operations should be required to get a permit, because wind farms are not the unobtrusive thing they might appear to be due to noise, shadows and other problems.
Commissioner Mike Ortner said wildcatter energy companies often buy energy construction permits to sell to larger operations.
Director of Equalization Susie Simkins was also contacted by the caller. She said the county needs guidance on this.