Pennington County seeking public comment on proposed mining ordinance

PENNINGTON COUNTY, S.D. — The Pennington County Board of Commissioners is moving forward in establishing a hard rock mining ordinance.

The board has begun taking formal public comments on the proposed ordinance, which lays out the regulations mining applicants need to follow in order to have hard rock mining operations in the county.

Hard rock mining involves the mining of metals and mineral deposits such as gold, copper, iron, ore, lead, uranium and zinc, which are generally found in igneous and metamorphic formations. This is opposed to soft rock mining, which involves extracting materials like coal, oil and shale from mainly sedimentary rocks.

Hard rock mines can have potentially devastating environmental and public health impacts when operations are not well-designed, managed or regulated. The EPA estimates that headwaters of more than 40 percent of the watersheds in the western U.S. have been contaminated by pollution from hard rock mines. There are about half a million abandoned mines across the country that will cost taxpayers between $32 and $72 billion to clean up, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Gold King Mine in Silverton, Colorado, where a toxic wastewater spill accidentally caused by EPA contract workers in August of 2015 contaminated rivers in three different states. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

Even state-of-the art hard rock mining operations that comply with modern regulations can cause significant harm to the environment and public health due to the large amounts of mining wastes they produce, and the sometimes complicated process of mitigating that waste without errors.

The proposed ordinance stipulates that mining operations need to notify property owners within a half mile of the boundaries of the operation, as well as Tribal Historical Preservation Officers.

It also dictates that the Board of Commissioners can revoke a mining permit or order remedial action from the operator of a mine if it poses a threat to public health, safety or general welfare.

Conservation advocates like Dakota Rural Action say they would like the ordinance to specify that mining companies be responsible for reclamation bonds in the millions — citing the Gilt Edge Mine in Lead, a Superfund Site with a total clean-up cost estimated at over $200 million.

They’d also like the ordinance to ensure that there’s substantial consultation with Tribal Historic Preservation Officers and meaningful public comment periods before the mining project is permitted.

The board is providing an online submission form on the county website for comments until October 6. Alternatively, comments may be submitted by email to

The board says county staff members will review all input and may make changes to the proposal before sending it to the Planning Commission for review.

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