Homestake bills pass Legislature
By Michelle Herrick and Jeremy Fugleberg
Community News Service
The South Dakota Legislature has voted nearly unanimously to approve five bills that Gov. Mike Rounds needs to begin converting the Homestake Gold Mine in Lead to an underground science laboratory.
"Today in many respects is a historic day for South Dakota," said the Senate Majority Leader Sen. Eric Bogue, R-Faith, when the Senate passed the bills Feb. 3. The House of Representatives approved the bills Feb. 9.
The bills give Gov. Mike Rounds and his staff the go-ahead to begin turning the Homestake Gold Mine in Lead into an underground science laboratory. Rounds will also begin negotiating with the National Science Foundation to lease the facility from the state. The NS Foundation must approve South Dakota as the site for the lab. That process could take up to 18 months. Rounds has said.
"We have a chance to host a laboratory where scientists will make discoveries that will change our understanding of the universe, create incredible economic possibilities and ennance our education system in untold ways," Rounds said during a committee hearing for the bills.
The main bill allows the governor to create a Science and Technology Authority, which will manage the mine's conversion, oversee daily activities and issue bonds to pay for the lab's construction.
"The Authority will offer to issue bonds to immediately fund the construction of the core laboratory facility if the National Sci- (
ence Foundation supports the science proposal," Rounds said.
The sales of the bonds by the Authority will provide the capital necessary to begin construction of the facility. Dynatec, one of the world's largest mine construction companies, will design the core lab to be built at the 7,400-foot level.
Two bills would provide that the donor of the mine, Barrick Gold Corp., would not be liable for any activities or emergencies that occur in the mine.
"It grants immunity from suits after donation," Rounds said. "His not intended to grant immunity for suits before donation. Barrick's will not be liable for any of the laboratory activities."
The main appropriations bill allocates $20 million for the cost of indemnification, and $800,000 to cover expenses to close the mine. Another bill gives the Authority S3.5 million to purchase liability insurance. The total cost of the Homestake Mine project for the state is $14.3 million.
The Homestake Mine first announced its closure in September 2000. Mine officials worked with the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources to clean up the mine. At a committee meeting Jan. 30, the secretary of the department, Steve Pirner, testified that the mine is environmentally safe.
"We identified the contaminants and removed all of them from the mine," Pirner said. "We cleaned the various systems. We also sent in an inspection team that collected water samples and tested them. It is the opinion of the DENR that the closure activities appear adequate."
Pirner said there is water still
in the mine and the water needs to be cooled before it can be discharged.
"Once the mine is converted, the environmental risk will be very low," Pirner said.
Richard Gowen, Rounds' executive director of the conversion project, told the committee that complete renovation of the mine would probably cost about $80 million.
"We will be building a large detector about the size of a football field to study the neutrinos," Gowen said. "That will cost $21 million."
Once construction is finished the facility will feature an education and visitors center.
Sen. Patricia de Hueck, R-Pierre said she appreciated the governor's enthusiasm, but still had some questions.
"Some people, our constituents, are wondering exactly what all this means," de Hueck said." Especially the concern is if sometime in the future if something, such as an environmental disaster, occurs the state of South Dakota will be left holding the bag."
Bogue clarified some of the statements by saying that the Authority is responsible for much of the work done in the mine.
"The state of South Dakota through the Authority will be purchasing an insurance policy," Bogue said.
The state couldn't be sued until damages exceeded the amount of the insurance policy, Bogue said, and is only secondarily liable after the authority.
Bogue said he is certain there will be long-term interest in the mine.
"We all saw the enthusiasm from the science community," Bogue said. "They had an almost childlike giddiness and couldn't wait to get back. There's already been a 30-year history of research in mines. I cannot see a lack of interest in the mine this year or in the future."
Rep. Chris Madsen, R-Sioux Falls, said the process has been long and not without frustration, but the "pure science" opportunities offered by an underground lab kept the vision strong.
"I know there were many people that were frustrated that this wasn't happeningfast enough, and that we seemed to keep hitting stumbling blocks," he said. "No more."
"All great things come from taking a risk," but the potential scientific and economic benefits for the state are tremendous, said Rep. , Mel Olson, D-Mitchell. |
"The possibilities of turning the school of mines into the MIT of the Midwest are very real," he said.
He said he had received many complaints about environmental liability concerns, especially dangers from tailings and the surface operations of the mine. But he said the state was not involved with surface operations and state experts had put anv fears to rest
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Devereaux Library. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.