Pennington County Commission to vote on controversial Croell Redi-Mix mine operations
On January 16, the Pennington County Commission will vote on something it rejected in 2016: whether to allow Croell Redi-Mix to develop its limestone operations at the old Perli pit off Highway 16. But just like they did the last time — critics are adamantly voicing their opposition — and will have their say at a public hearing next week.
At issue is a rather inconspicuous turnoff between Reptile Gardens and Bear Country. It’s the entrance and exit for trucks hauling gravel to and from the quarry, and it’s triggered controversy and safety concerns among residents, business owners and the tourist industry.
“Well it’s not expansion,” says Spearfish attorney Tom Brady, who is representing Croell, as he did in 2016. “It’s been a limestone quarry for 60 years. It is and was and will continue to be a quarry during the life of the resource.”
Julie Jensen, the president and C.E.O of Visit Rapid City, is upset the Croell proposal is before the county commission again. Jensen says, “Agriculture’s number one, tourism is number two in the state of South Dakota. Both of those industries will be impacted by this. It’s just beyond belief to me that it’s even being considered, that its even being debated.”
And that’s where this Highway 16 turnoff comes into play. Opponents contend that if Croell receives permission to develop its operations, significantly more large trucks hauling gravel will be coming on to the road at a section of Highway 16 where there’s a curve. Many of those trucks would be crossing four lanes of traffic to head toward Rapid City, at a spot where vehicles and motorcycles are coming off a steep downhill – and may not know trucks will be crossing in their lanes.
“Before Croell purchased the property, the amount of rock coming out of there was basically miniscule,” says Duane Abata with the group Black Hills Concerned Citizens. Abata says, “When Croell purchased the property and began their operations, and they don’t even have a rock crusher in there yet, the tonnage went up fifty times. What really bothers us is the truck traffic. If you do simple arithmetic, there’s going to be a truck going up and down those hills every two minutes, which will basically take over a lane of traffic. “
Abata shared video with NewsCenter1 of a truck coming onto highway 16 from the Croell turnoff. The truck can be seen crossing all lanes and turning left toward Rapid City. It’s not known if the truck belongs to Croell. Regardless, as it turns, a thick cloud of dirt from the truck envelopes the area, affecting visibility for vehicles coming off the downslope, at a curve – and sometimes at a higher than usual rate of speed because of the hill.
“I was just as shocked as anyone would be viewing the video,” says Abata, “but perhaps not surprised because one might expect these sorts of things to happen when you have that operation of this magnitude.”
We showed the video to Spearfish attorney Tom Brady, who is representing Croell, as he did in 2016. His reaction: “I guess you can imagine or fantasize a lot of things, but then there’s reality. And that isn’t I think representative of what would occur. On the other hand to be candid with you, that appeared to be lawful use of a highway and there’s plenty of sight distance and things of that nature. But yes, dust control, those are things that are important.”
Brady adds that the state Department of Transportation has no issue with this use of Highway 16.
But Julie Jensen is worried. “I see potential accidents waiting to happen. Then I think about motorcycles. You know, gravel is very dangerous on a motorcycle going 60 miles per hour. It’s dangerous no matter how fast you’re going.”
Beside any potential safety issues, Jensen believes an increase in gravel truck traffic on the road leading to Mount Rushmore will make the area less appealing and will dissuade any tourist-oriented businesses from setting up shop along the highway.
“It’s just a bad spot for mining,” says Jensen. “It’s such a beautiful part of the Black Hills. When the Perli family owned it, they did sort of a small family owned mining operation. It wasn’t a big deal. This is a big deal. This is bad for our reputation.”
The public hearing on the quarry proposal will be held Tuesday, January 8 at 3 p.m. in the Pennington County Commission Chambers. The Commission is scheduled to take a vote the following week, on Wednesday the 16th.