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Fall River Voters Approve Initiative Declaring Uranium Mining a Nuisance… Perhaps to No Avail

Nepotism, inattention to elected duties, and general incompetence aren’t nuisances to the 217,008 South Dakotans who reëlected Governor Kristi Noem yesterday. But 1,993 voters in Fall River County say uranium mining is a nuisance, and that’s enough votes to make that declaration law…at least until uranium miners bring it to a judge.

Encore Energy (which last fall gobbled up Azarga, which in 2014 gobbled up Powertech) would still like to slurp up a whole bunch of water from the Inyan Kara and Madison aquifers in a search for uranium under the Hills around the Dewey-Burdock area near the Wyoming border. Lots of locals would rather Encore left the uranium and the water alone, so they collected 450 signatures to place on the November ballot an initiative declaring uranium mining a nuisance. That initiative passed yesterday, winning 56% of the 3,530 votes cast in Fall River County.

Encore/Azarga/Powertech contends the county can’t regulate EAP’s business, and those who are declaring his business a nuisance are (paraphrasing) thieving socialists:

Mark Hollenbeck, manager for the Dewey Burdock uranium project, said even if it’s approved, the ballot measure will not prevent his company from starting the project.

“There’s a state law that says that anything that’s licensed by the state cannot be declared a nuisance at the local level,” Hollenbeck said. “So, I really don’t think it has much effect on us.”

Hollenbeck said the issue boils down to property rights.

“As a rancher I don’t like it at all, because basically it allows people to steal property rights,” Hollenbeck said. “All of the ranchers who are currently mineral right holders on the site—there’s a group of people in Fall River County attempting to steal their mineral rights from them” [Lee Strubinger, “Fall River Co. Residents Vote on Whether to Ban Uranium Mining,” SDPB, 2022.10.11].

Hollenbeck, who used to legislate, is right that counties can’t make nuisances out of things the state permits. SDCL 21-10-2 says, “Nothing which is done or maintained under the express authority of a statute can be deemed a nuisance.” We have a whole “South Dakota Uranium Exploration Act” passed in 1982 and codified as SDCL Chapter 45-6D encouraging the properly safeguarded exploitation of uranium resources.

It would seem the ordinance Fall River voters just approved cannot do what it seeks to do. Fall River state’s attorney Lance Russell should expect a call from Encore/Azarga/Powertech’s lawyers shortly.


  1. Donald Pay 2022-11-09 19:06

    Hollenbeck lobbied to toll state permitting, Cory, and the Legislature agreed. They passed the law, so those statutes are not in effect as to this operation. This, they have the authority to declare a nuisance.

  2. grudznick 2022-11-09 19:45

    In the legislatures and the lobbies, they called Mr. Hollenbeck “Mr. Insitu.” He’s a pretty swell fellow, really, if you talk to most of the people down in Edgemont who aren’t Lance Russell.

  3. Mark Anderson 2022-11-09 21:22

    Glad you covered this. They are hoping for coverage that will radiate from Fall River.

  4. Arlo Blundt 2022-11-09 21:55

    Dewey-Burdock is really a lost part of the Hills, high and lonesome. Settled by Ranchers and at one time a railroad went through that territory, doubt that it’s still running. It’s a long way to a convenience store. Uranium miners have been digging holes up there since the fifties. There are ranches up there and little else. It doesn’t rain much. I understood that uranium mines were not developed because the ore is “low grade” and the costs in getting it up and transporting it out were prohibitive to development. Don’t know what’s changed.

  5. leslie 2022-11-10 05:52

    Another observation. Wisconsin is the most gerrymandered of the states, in cheater-Republican’s favor, of course. But in Michigan a bipartisan commission drew up the new district maps, and as a result Democrats ran the table (despite second amendment wackos who tried to ASSASSINATE its governor!)

    Rachel Maddow Show (@34:00) 11.09.22

    Keep in mind that ground water menace from mining there generally runs downhill into Wyoming from the western Black Hills. No real aquifer really exists “under” the granitic foundation.

  6. larry kurtz 2022-11-10 06:05

    In 1951 after uranium was discovered south of Pringle more than 150 uranium mines were gouged into the Earth where the Oglala Lakota once made their winter camp. Since then, radioactive tailings from those mines have been detected in Angostura Reservoir after a dam on the Cheyenne River broke in 1962. Nearly all of the 300 mile long Cheyenne River flows through Indian Country and Powertech USA, part of Canadian firm Azarga Uranium, now enCore Energy, wants to mine near Dewey northwest of Edgemont on a tributary of the river despite warnings of high risk from a securities firm. Recall that the South Dakota Republican Party ceded regulatory authority to the US Environmental Protection Agency for uranium mining after the legislature realized there is no competent oversight from state agencies.

    No doubt the mine’s principals wish ill will on Susan Henderson, too. Texas-based enCore has uranium claims or operations in Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, and South Dakota.

  7. larry kurtz 2022-11-10 06:12

    Recall that in 2000 now-dead Republican South Dakota Governor Bill Janklow sold the state cement plant in Rapid City to Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua (GCC). Democratic legislators voted against Janklow’s folly because GCC was exempted from mineral severance and was allowed to mine on ground owned by School and Public Lands. Limestone-rich state trust land near Dewey was leased for a dollar for 99 years and could be renewed twice so for three bucks GCC received the mineral rights for 297 years and school kids got screwed. During the 1980s and 90s the cement plant returned about $11 million a year but in 2013 the legislature had to kick in $4 million to the plant’s retirement system and South Dakota still surfs the bottom for America’s education dollars.

    In my home state of South Dakota, British Columbia-based United Lithium has staked some 500 claims, some on Bureau of Land Management ground near Pringle, where lithium bearing pegmatites are already being quarried for potassium feldspars and micas. Ores containing lithium are hideously carbon intensive to mine and the 1872 law allows foreign companies to exploit public lands instead of sharing the pecuniary rewards with Indigenous former landowners.

  8. leslie 2022-11-10 22:35

    Larry, correct, runoff from surface mine operations would wind up in the Cheyenne River upstream of Pine Ridge Reservation.

    Is the mine plan for injection; and then the waste water would follow that outfall and continue down stream?

  9. larry kurtz 2022-11-11 06:47

    Good morning, Leslie. Donald Pay probably has a better answer to your question. The uranium miners’ impact on the deepest part of the aquifer wouldn’t affect drinking water supplies for thousands of years but undetected spills are major concerns and could render parts of the Cheyenne River watershed unusable.

    If the wells around Box Elder are any guide contamination could be felt in decades instead of centuries since offal from mining in the Black Hills and PFAS and other forever compounds from Ellsworth Air Force Base have been detected all the way to the Oahe Reservoir and even in the Gulf of Mexico.

  10. Donald Pay 2022-11-11 08:42

    Larry and leslie, My concern would be that the confining layers (shale) are not all that confining. First, you have natural fissures in various shales in the area. Second, there are likely breaches of the confining layers by previous exploration holes drilled in the area. There were few requirements for exploration hole abandonment in the 1950s and very minimal hole abandonment requirements through the 1970s to the early 1980s. Enforcement of those minimal requirements was also minimal. So, these previous exploration holes could provide conduits to contaminate aquifers or the surface. I brought these issues up in comments to EPA, but I have not followed up to see if they addressed those issues adequately. Probably not.

  11. All Mammal 2022-11-11 09:37

    I cannot find the study I wanted to remind the mineral committee of, doggonit. It existed at one time, I swear. The information came from New Mexico and South Dakota reservations where uranium mine holding ponds overflowed into the rivers. The damn break Mr. Pay mentioned concerning the Cheyenne river has caused a horrible physical deformity in utero where the fetus develops the entire digestive system externally. Since the condition isn’t initially fatal, afflicted mothers will be forced to give birth to an infant with his or her stomach outside their little body. Slow, heartbreaking dying will be what consists of the short life of the infant. I know the research didn’t have funds for saying with certainty this rare condition only found in Pine Ridge after the damn failure is 100% a result of contaminated water from uranium mining. Proof of that wouldn’t be good news for the mining industry. Even if it is only found on reservations. I will keep searching for the paper I originally read about the dreary news. Nothing can counterbalance the negatives of the mining done in and around the Black Hills.

  12. larry kurtz 2022-11-11 10:21

    The mill is located just five miles north of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe’s community in White Mesa, Utah. Initially designed to process uranium ore, the mill now receives feeds of radioactive materials from around the world which it extracts uranium from. It disposed of the rest in containment cells, and has collected an estimated 700 million pounds according to the Grand Canyon Trust.

  13. larry kurtz 2022-11-11 11:02

    There is two billion year old rock exposed in the Elk Creek drainage. The shale Mr. Pay mentioned is the pulverized Black Hills, one of the oldest mountain ranges on the planet.

    About 50% of the heat in the Earth’s mass is generated by the radioactive decay of two uranium isotopes and warms the water at Evan’s Plunge and under Midland. To me, that hot water is far more precious than the uranium that warms it.

  14. All Mammal 2022-11-11 11:42

    It was Mr. Kurtz who had mentioned the Cheyenne damn break I related my comment with. Mr. Pay more than likely mentioned it too in another thread commented on in the recent past. Sorry for using you gentlemen’s information interchangeably.
    I wonder if enough underground spring water goes away, could it put so much pressure on the shale to cause it to collapse on itself where the depleted voids exist? Further breeches to the integrity of the formation by drilling and also extracting or ‘leaking’ the water doesn’t seem wise at all. Without the barrier provided by the shale, we have no conduit to retain runoffs for drinking. We could also creat a big, dry caved-in abyss. Looney Toons shows examples of the unfortunate outcomes of blowing the ground you stand on to smithereens.

  15. grudznick 2022-11-12 08:18

    Like my close personal friend, Lar, grudznick also finds the Stroppel Inn precious.

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