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Funding proposal for SURF advances past appropriations committee

SB 35 passed the Joint Appropriations Committee Wednesday. It aims to expand laboratory space at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, or SURF, located in the Black Hills.

In total, the proposal requested $13 million for the facility.

Mike Headley is executive director of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority. He said SURF is already missing out on opportunities.

“We have lost recent, next-generation experiments to Canada and Italy, because we don’t have the space, and what we’re trying to do here is avoid that problem in the future," Headley said. "Certainly, China has been in the conversation a lot recently, they are major players in underground science as well, and so obviously we’re trying to compete with them and make sure we keep U.S.-funded science in the U.S.”

Headley said any additional cavern space used by SURF would be home to two large experiments worth as much as a half-billion dollars each in funding.

However, the goal is to use minimal state money at the facility.

“For the record, we do not plan to come back for any additional money for this project in the future," Headley said. "I know you all have long memories when that kind of thing gets said, so what we are saying is if we do have a shortfall with this project, we are going to address it through private and federal funding.”

In opposition to the bill was Jim Terwilliger, the Bureau of Finance and Management Commissioner. He said there are sustainability questions to be considered.

“The primary reason for my opposition here today comes down to unanswered questions about when, how much, and for how long into the future should the state be expected to put funding into the Sanford Underground Research Facility," Terwilliger said. "And with this particular ask, we don’t have anything in writing regarding the potential for $100 million dollars in private funding.”

Despite concerns, the funding bill was passed on a 15 to 3 vote.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture