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Minnesota Governor to Tour Black Hills Superfund Site to Inform Arrowhead Mining Decision

Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota is coming to South Dakota. No, he’s not setting up a kiosk at the Empire Mall to try to convince South Dakotans to move to Minnesota. He’s coming to the Black Hills to see the impacts of open-pit mining as he considers whether to allow Canadian outfit PolyMet to dig for copper, nickel, gold, platinum, palladium, and other treasure way up in Minnesota’s nose north of Duluth.

Governor Dayton is actually visiting two mines, the Eagle Mine in the Michigan Upper Peninsula and the Gilt Edge Mine in the Northern Hills, southeast of Lead and Deadwood. Ours is the bad one:

No major environmental problems have been reported at the Eagle Mine so far. In contrast, the Gilt Edge Mine near Lead in the Black Hills of South Dakota is a federal Superfund cleanup site that has already cost taxpayers over $100 million.

Aerial view of Gilt Edge Mine Superfund site, northern Black Hills, South Dakota. Photo from EPA.
Aerial view of Gilt Edge Mine Superfund site, northern Black Hills, South Dakota. Photo from EPA.

The former gold and silver mine was abandoned in 1999. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the most recent mine operator, Brohm Mining Company, left behind about 150 million gallons of acidic, heavy-metal-laden water in three open pits and millions of cubic yards of acid-generating, sulfide-bearing waste rock. Some interim remedies are in place at the site, about 6.5 miles east of Lead, but the cleanup is still years away from completion.Dancic called the Gilt Edge mine a lesson for Minnesota, saying the state “can’t afford a disaster like that.”

One of the issues with PolyMet is whether the company can provide sufficient financial assurances for a proper cleanup when it eventually closes. Brohm forfeited a $6.4 million mining bond, which wasn’t nearly enough to cover the costs. Four mining companies that operated the site previously agreed to contribute $30 million to the cleanup [link added; Brian Bakst and Steve Karnowski, “Facing PolyMet Decision, Dayton to Tour Mines in Michigan, S.D.,” AP via St. Paul Pioneer Press, 2015.10.14].

It’s always fun to be held up as the example of what not to do.

It will also be fun to see if Governor Daugaard or other state and local officials come to greet Governor Dayton at the airport, accompany him on the trip, and offer any insight on the pleasures of having a Superfund site in the middle of the state’s premiere tourist destination. Given the SDGOP’s fealty to big business (and Canadian business—see our leaders’ dogged support of TransCanada’s Keystone XL), one would expect the mining industry to march the Governor and some flunkies out to the Gilt Edge Mine to say, “Look how wonderful this project was for South Dakota! Let PolyMet dig up your Arrowhead!” Maybe Governor Daugaard will even play some economic development chess: encourage Governor Dayton to let Canadians rape his land, and maybe the environmental degradation will make it easier for Governor Daugaard to coax Minnesotans westward on his next visit to the Mall of America.

Governor Dayton comes to the Hills on October 27, then goes to Michigan on October 30.


  1. larry kurtz 2015-10-16

    Just another day in the ditch, Cory. Not just Gilt Edge but Cave Hills, Lucky Strike and many others are leaching poisons into once pristine waterways while SD Dept. of Ecocide and Natural Ruination diddles and SDGOP thwarts EPA.

    Pathetic, really.

  2. John2 2015-10-16

    The governor ought to visit ALL the superfund sites in the Black Hills. Mining is a horrible neighbor. Apparently somehow the ‘right to mine’ turned into a right to create a superfund site.

  3. 96Tears 2015-10-16

    This is a test to see if there are any real news reporters willing to cover this visit to South Dakota’s self-imposed disaster.

    Too bad Governor Dayton can spare one day to visit our state’s incompetence in mining protections. It would take several more days to show off how NOT to run school systems, create jobs, provide accountability in government, protect the public from crooks robbing government programs and run a state legislature.

  4. Donald Pay 2015-10-16

    There are lots of examples of the failure of mining in high sulfide rock to show Governor Dayton, but the Gilt Edge Mine is a pretty good example of what goes wrong pretty regularly when mining ores where sulfides are present in the rock.

    Minnesota has an advantage. Unlike what happened at Gilt Edge, Minnesota has been researching the various environmental impacts of this mine prior to permitting. This was something that environmental groups have been urging for decades in South Dakota. Environmental Impact Statements don’t necessarily guarantee a mine won’t be allowed, but they often flag problem areas and provide better alternatives. Unfortunately, with sulfides you are playing Russian Roulette no matter what technology you employ to lessen the hazard. You have to assume at least one hundred years of water treatment post mining, and most companies, especially one’s like Dayton is dealing with, are going to fold on you, as happened at Gilt Edge.

    Years ago Wisconsin passed a moratorium on sulfide mining until a mining company can prove that a mine contain high-levels of sulfide has been fully reclaimed and has not had violations of regulation. That moratorium bill wasn’t really controversial. Scott Walker supported it.

  5. 96Tears 2015-10-16


    It would be so useful if you were still in the Hills to testify to the Minnesota team with all of your valuable history and expertise. Who would you recommend Dayton to talk with to get the straight story of what happened?

  6. Donald Pay 2015-10-16

    There are a lot of old timers who know the history of that site far better than I. Dave Sandidge and David Miller know the backstory of Gilt Edge before Brohm came along, and both have some knowledge of the Brohm Mine. Deb Rogers and I know many of the technical issues and how the problems developed, but we are long gone, and don’t know all the current issues at the mine. Certainly the state DENR staff knows the issues, but their perspective is a bit different.

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-10-18

    Hmmm… has Governor Daugaard traveled to other states to study the impact of industrial projects similar to those he is asked to support or subsidize here in South Dakota?

  8. leslie 2015-10-22

    wow-iron giant Minnesota comes here to see what not too do in the state of heather “deep borehole” {can I say that here?) Wilson’s sdsm&t; and new angus renames its brand dem-kota in an apparent slap at SDGOP’s pathetic mis-support of NBP AND EB5 scandal. can DAUGAARD get any worse press? think gov. Dayton and denny get along?

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