Senate panels endorse Homestake Mine lab plan
By CHET BROKAW ' Associated Press Writer
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) _ Gov. Mike Rounds' plans for converting the closed Homestake gold mine into an underground science lab won easy first-round approval Friday in the Legislature.
The Senate State Affairs Committee endorsed three bills, and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved two measures. Ail five now go to the full Senate.
"We're convinced that this project is right for South Dakota. We're convinced this is the right time to do it," Rounds told lawmakers.
The lab would allow scientists to conduct experiments on tiny particles in a cavern the size of a football field more than a mile underground. The lab would not only help advance scientific knowledge but also would boost South Dakota's economy and the research and education at the state's universities, Rounds said.
"This is our attempt to break into that new world of science and technology," Rounds said.
The measures are the result of an agreement Rounds negotiated with Barrick Gold Corp., the owner of the Homestake mine. The agreement sets out conditions under which Barrick will transfer the mine to the state. But the
transfer will occur only if scientists decide to use the min^ as a lab site.
The state would set up the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority, which could accept the mine and then develop and maintain the site as a lab. The state and the authority would protect Barrick from legal liability if environmental problems or other difficulties develop at the part of the mine donated to the state.
The state would buy commercial insurance to protect Barrick and the state in case problems occur.
"We think we've gone to pretty good lengths to make sure we're protected," Rounds said. 'And we don't think we have environmental risks that would prevent us from going forward."
South Dakota Environment Secretary Steve Pirner said state officials found no environmental problems in the mine shaft and other property that would be part of the lab site.
The new authority would issue more than $100 million in bonds to fix up the mine site and build the underground laboratory. Rounds hopes lease payments from the National Science Foundation and rent from individual experiments will provide money to repay those bonds.
Dick Gowen, head of the state office working on the project, said it would cost about $80 million to , renovateend rebuild the mine for use as a science lab. Another $21 million would be needed to dig out the big cavern that would contain a particle detector, he said.
SB216 creates the authority and I gives it the power to accept the mine site, run the laboratory facility and issue bonds to pay for renovating the mine.
SB214 and SB215 set out provisions to give Barrick immunity from environmental and other problems at the lab site. The governor could make an agreement to protect Barrick, and the state would be authorized to purchase insurance to cover any liability
SB200 would place$10 million in state funds into an account that would be used to cover legal expenses and deductibles if any lawsuits are filed against Homestake. Another $1 million, with $800,000 corningfrom the state and $200,000 from Homestake, would be invested so money would be available to treat mine water when the lab is closed decades from now. The bill also provides that a $10 million federal grant could be used to pump water out of the mine and do other work to preserve the site.
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Devereaux Library. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.