Board Recommends Denial Of Mining Permit Near Spearfish Canyon

Oct 2, 2020

Mark Nelson, of VMC LLC, presents the company's plan Thursday to the Lawrence County Planning and Zoning Board at The Lodge at Deadwood.
Credit Seth Tupper / SDPB

A county board is recommending denial of a permit to mine for gold near Spearfish Canyon.

The company applying for the conditional-use permit is VMC LLC. The Deadwood Standard mine site is on a plateau above Spearfish Canyon, just back from the eastern rim near Savoy.

The company wants to blast and dig 14 pits, each ranging from a half-acre to 5 acres across, and as deep as 70 feet. The company would mine sequentially, backfilling and reclaiming one pit while mining the next.

Mark Nelson, a geologist from Nemo, made the company’s presentation Thursday to the Lawrence County Planning and Zoning Board during a special meeting at The Lodge in Deadwood. Nelson said the plan is different than a previous one that county officials rejected eight years ago.

“We’ve thought a lot about some of the commissioners’ thoughts, the county’s concerns," Nelson said. "We’ve thought a lot about the Spearfish Canyon homeowners’ concerns, and as a result we’ve changed our proposal very significantly.”

One change is the plan for ore-processing. The previous plan included on-site processing. Now VMC plans to haul the ore somewhere off-site.

A terrain map shows the outline of the potential disturbance areas and dots for monitoring wells at the site of the proposed Deadwood Standard mine.
Credit VMC permit application / Lawrence County Planning and Zoning

But company officials said they don't know where yet. That troubled some audience members and board members, who said the lack of a processing plan means there’s no way to anticipate truck traffic, or to gauge the potential environmental harm of the processing.

Audience members said they also worry about minerals and chemicals washing down into Spearfish Creek. They’re concerned that blasting could harm the canyon walls.

VMC presented research and testimony asserting that the water-pollution risk is low and the blasting will not harm the canyon or cause loud noise in the canyon.

Board members and many audience members were not swayed. About 50 people attended a socially distanced hearing on the permit at The Lodge in Deadwood, and others listened online.

Retired physician Don Kelley, of Nemo, offered comments by phone.

“Although I believe the folks advocating for this permit have no desire to cause harm," Kelley said, "I think our record of mining projects in Lawrence County should tell us that things often tend not to go as planned.”

That record includes the Gilt Edge Mine near Lead. Since its owner went bankrupt in 1999, the state and federal government have spent more than $120 million cleaning up the mine and treating its polluted water.

The Planning and Zoning Board voted 5-0 to recommend denial of VMC’s permit. If the company persists with the application, the Lawrence County Commission will have the final say.

-Seth Tupper is SDPB's business and economic development reporter.