Proposed uranium mine could pose issues for Pine Ridge

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COURTESY/U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Draft statement claims cumulative impacts of proposed Dewey-Burdock mining small in the context of all energy production proposals the area could face. The proposed uranium mine would be located some 50 miles west of the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Proposed uranium mine could pose issues for Pine Ridge

By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

EDGEMONT — The biggest single impact of Powertech (USA) Inc.’s proposed uranium mining operation at the Dewey-Burdock site 20 miles north of here would be on Lakota historical and cultural resources, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff doesn’t consider that an environmental justice issue.

That opinion is contained in its evaluation in a draft supplemental environmental impact statement now available for public comment.

The Dewey-Burdock operation, wholly-owned by Canadian holding company Powertech Uranium Corp., is seeking permits for the launch of South Dakota’s first injection-well mining and on-site processing (in-situ recovery, or ISR) of yellowcake for nuclear plants and weapons. It hopes to have them in place next year for mining on some 10,340 acres of private land and 240 acres of federal land in Custer and Fall River counties in extreme southwestern South Dakota, adjacent to the Pine Ridge Reservation.

“The closest population to the proposed Dewey-Burdock ISR Project that could be impacted by environmental justice concerns is the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation located approximately 50 miles east in Shannon County, South Dakota,” the draft states.

“Based on 2010 United States Census Bureau data, this reservation has both minority {greater than 95 percent Native American (Oglala Sioux Tribe)} and low-income populations,” it notes. Those qualifications make the population a target of environmental justice concerns, according to federal definitions.

“The proposed action may potentially affect certain sites of religious and cultural significance to Native American tribes,” it says.

Nonetheless, it concludes: “Environmental justice impacts to Native American tribes living in the vicinity of the proposed project will be no different than those experienced by other populations.”
The impacts to the sites “could be reduced through mitigation strategies developed through the National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 consultation process,” it adds.

Section 106 requires the federal government to consult and coordinate with the tribal governments that may have an interest in a proposed federal action, including those involving national public lands, such as U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management jurisdictions in the proposed uranium mining area.

According to the NRC evaluation contained in the draft statement, the only impacts the staff considered to be “large” are those on historic and cultural resources. All the rest were deemed small or moderate.
“Archaeological and historic sites may potentially be disturbed during construction. Within the area of potential effect at the proposed Dewey-Burdock site, 18 historic sites are either listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NHRP) or eligible for listing.

“Based on the proposed location of in-situ recovery (ISR) facilities and infrastructure, avoidance of 12 of these sites is possible during the construction phase and, therefore, no impacts are anticipated. Avoidance and mitigation, such as fencing and data recovery excavations, are recommended for the remaining six NRHP-eligible sites.

“In addition, avoidance is recommended for two unevaluated historic burial sites located in proximity to proposed construction activities until their NRHP eligibility is determined. Avoidance and mitigation is also recommended for four unevaluated sites located within 250 feet of proposed well fields or land application areas,” the preliminary recommendations state.

The NRC evaluation analyzes the construction, operation, aquifer restoration and decommissioning phases of the proposed uranium mines.

It establishes that each of these phases will have small-to-moderate impacts on land use, geology and soils, surface waters and wetlands, groundwater, wildlife, air quality, noise, visual and scenic resources, socioeconomics, environmental justice, occupational health and waste management.

It concludes that the cumulative impacts of all phases “are not expected to contribute perceptible increases to the ‘small-to-large’” cumulative impacts projected in the region from all “ongoing uranium and oil-and-gas exploration activities, potential wind energy projects, and proposed infrastructure and transportation projects.”

The draft supplemental environmental impact statement is an addition to a generic final environmental impact statement that the government did to accommodate a groundswell of proposals for in-situ uranium mining in Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Colorado.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe has passed a resolution against Powertech’s mining of the Dewey-Burdock site and has been intervening in NRC hearings over the past several years.

“Consultation efforts to identify properties of religious and cultural significance to Native American tribes have not been completed,” according to the draft statement. “Thus, NRC cannot determine effects to these properties at this time,” it says.

“Section 106 consultation between NRC, South Dakota State Historic Preservation Office (SD SHPO), Bureau of Land Management, tribal representatives, and the applicant regarding potential impacts to these sites is ongoing,” it notes.

The NRC continues consultation on historic properties with the following tribes: Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe.

“Prior to construction, an agreement between NRC, SD SHPO, BLM, interested Native American tribes, the applicant, and other interested parties will be established outlining the mitigation process for each affected resource,” it projects.

“The applicant will also develop an Unexpected Discovery Plan that will outline the steps required if unexpected historical and cultural resources are encountered,” it adds.

(Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

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