Pennington County group wants public vote on mining law

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A group of West River residents is petitioning to bring an ordinance regarding Pennington County's mining laws to a public vote.

A group called the Black Hills Concerned Citizens hopes to bring a vote from the Pennington County Board of Commissioners to the June primary. At a Feb. 28 meeting, The Board of Commissioners expanded regulations for heavy metal mining operations in the Black Hills. Mining for gold and uranium falls under the category of heavy metals.

Over the last year, a committee composed of community members, met regularly to draft the new ordinance. According to Pennington County Board of Commissioners Chair Lloyd LaCroix, the committee took their time drafting the changes and carefully weighed the options. 

"They actually did a lot of work on this for a year, so it wasn't something that was thrown out there real quick," said LaCroix.

At the time of the vote, LaCroix called the changes common ground between the County Board, mining experts and residents.

"It's a compromise," said LaCroix. "It's not favored one way or another. It's supposed to be a compromise to work together in a good guiding council.

Since the February vote, some in the community have raised concerns about a clause in the new ordinance which could allow pre-existing mining operations like Croell Redi-Mix to resume operations, despite environmental, traffic, and noise concerns from Black Hills Concerned Citizens.

Last year, Croell Redi-Mix became entangled in a legal battle regarding its expansion, and eventually lost in the South Dakota State Supreme Court. Croell Redi-Mix is one of about 100 active mines in the Black Hills.

"Our whole history of the Black Hills involves mining, so I'm not against mining," said Rep. Tim Goodwin, who supports bringing the matter to a public vote. "I think it has to be responsible, safe, conscious, and be good neighbors."

Goodwin is part of the group gathering signatures to petition to bring the ordinance changes to a public vote.

"[Signing the petition] doesn't mean you agree with it or disagree with it, we just want to have the citizens of Pennington County, vote on it," Goodwin said. "We just want to refer it so the voters have a say, not just five commissioners."

LaCroix however, said that the new ordinance changes are flexible and can be changed accordingly.

"I do believe we can come back if something's not working, we can come back and do that work," said LaCroix.

Those gathering signatures have until March 27 to collect around 3,600 signatures.

If the issue makes it to the June ballot and is defeated, then the County Commission's vote for the changes stays in place.


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