Croell takes step towards mining, construction permits

Vote comes down to Pennington County Commissioners

PENNINGTON COUNTY, S.D. — After months of rescheduling, residents were finally allowed to voice their opinions about the proposed expansion of the old Perli Quarry on Highway 16 but to no avail. Pennington County Planning Commission voted in favor of Croell Inc., granting three permits that allow expansion of operations.

The property is located on Highway 16 between Reptile Gardens and Bear Country U.S.A. and has been mined off and on since 1966. Heading south on Highway 16, the entrance to the quarry is on a blind corner. Newly expanded operations would bring an estimated maximum of 16 to 17 trucks to the intersection a day in peak summer months, which residents say have no business being in the area.

“It boils down to this, this is a major, heavy industrial mining operation that’s going to be brought forth in an agriculture zoned district, a tourist district, and a residential district where it has no place,” said Sylvia Cox, who lives less than a mile from the quarry.

The Spearfish Lawyer representing Croell, Tom Brady, argues the additional trucks are negligible, considering previous traffic studies shows roughly 9,000 vehicles go through the area on an average day. Of those 9,000, about 600 are trucks.

The trucks turning toward Rapid City would be crossing four lanes of traffic at a spot where vehicles are coming off a downhill curve.

“I can assure you Croell is smart enough to regulate their traffic to the extent they can to have their trucks operating at the lower traffic time frames,” said Brady.

Danger for motorcyclists was noted by many Wednesday night, referencing heavy traffic during the rally and through tourist season.

South Dakota Department of Transportation proposed possible acceleration and deceleration lanes near the area to mitigate accidents related to trucks pulling out. Those additions would not be immediate.

“Safety is the big thing,” said Julie Jensen, president and CEO of Visit Rapid City. “If we have to wait for something bad to happen before we can stop it from happening, it seems a little silly.”

But the safety issue is what it boiled down to for Ward 5 Commissioner Gary Drewes who voted in favor of Croell.

“For me it was the safety factor,” said Drewes. “To have the assurance it’s not going to be the log jam of traffic that we’re hearing about. We feel pretty secure in the fact that any kind of hazard conditions that are created will be mitigated.”

Drewes also says the awareness of residents nearby to the site factored into his vote.

“Most of the people that I’ve heard comments from have indicated that they haven’t had a problem with it in the last three to four years because they don’t feel anything has been going on,” said Drewes. “Well, there has been. Croell has been doing some blasting, they’ve been moving a lot of material, they just haven’t been hauling a lot of material at this point.”

Other opponents were worried about water quality and what added pollutants could be introduced to a drinking supply that may end up depleting due to the operation.

Brady assured the commission that if Croell interfered with an “adequate water supply,” Croell’s water would be shut off.

Lastly, the “Gateway to ‘Rushmore'” is seeing development but citizens do not want to see the views along the highway impeded.

“This is the road to Rushmore. There should be rules and regulations that protect the visual aspect of this and I can hope that the right thing is done,” said Jensen. “Let’s remember the visitor industry and how important it is to the city and this county and the Black Hills and let’s just bring that back in and reconsider some of these options that people are looking at.”

Citizens still have another chance to voice their opinions Friday morning at 9 a.m. during the special Pennington County Commission and Board of Adjustment meeting held in the Administration Building. Commissioners are expected to vote on the permits.

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