- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - A prime route for millions of Black Hills tourists each year could be subjected to the flow of trucks from a proposed limestone mine along U.S. Highway 16 - the road to Mount Rushmore National Monument.

Officials from Iowa-based Croell Redi-Mix, which has an office in Rapid City, have announced plans for a new limestone mine on 145 acres of land southwest of Rapid City, just south of the Founding Fathers Black Hills museum.

Opponents of the project worry the mine could bring frequent explosions and possibly a diminished water supply, the Rapid City Tribune (http://bit.ly/1HUJpF2 ) reported.

“I’m very concerned about the blasting and etcetera in the area,” nearby resident Gene Bunge said Tuesday after a Pennington County Commission meeting. “A (water) well for the community up there is less than a half a mile from the proposed mining area.”

During a recent county Planning Commission meeting, local representatives of Croell Redi-Mix laid out plans for the mine as part of a request that the site be rezoned from general agriculture to heavy industrial.

The Planning Commission had ultimately recommended that the land be kept zoned as general agriculture. On Tuesday, the County Commission followed suit with a unanimous vote.

The next step for the concrete company is applying for a mining permit, which has yet to happen. Local Croell Redi-Mix owner Joe Croell, who works out of Sundance, Wyo., declined to comment on plans for the operation.

So far, firm details of how the mine would operate, how much truck traffic would be created, and other details have not been revealed.

County Planning Director PJ Conover said that if the requested rezoning to heavy industrial had been approved, it would require less scrutiny of the mining permit application.

Conover said mining is allowed on agricultural land, though the concrete company will have to jump through more hoops to get the desired mine approved.

“So, a mining permit from staff’s viewpoint holds up stronger - you’re going to need a mining permit either way - but it holds up stronger in heavy industrial than it does in general agriculture, and that’s why they decided to go through the rezone,” he told the commission Tuesday.

Conover said after the meeting that it’s easier to secure a limestone mining permit on heavy industrial land because excavating, crushing and distributing the stone is a defined purpose for heavy industrial sites per county code.

Mining on agricultural land requires added permission but is still a legal option, he said.

Once a mining permit application is submitted, he said he will notify area residents and stakeholders. The county Planning Commission would have final say on the permit, unless residents file an appeal to the County Commission.

The notification would be welcomed by Duane Abata and a handful of other area residents who attended the Tuesday meeting, since they plan to oppose the permit.

In addition to his neighbor’s concerns over blasting and threatened water resources, he fears the mining operation will greatly affect local tourism.

“South Dakota tourism is the second-largest income to South Dakota, second or third, and by putting a mining operation in the corridor where 3 million people drive by to go to Mount Rushmore is absolutely ludicrous,” Abata said. “I’m not opposed to mining. I was the department head of mining at Michigan Tech University, but I know what mining operations are. It’s just crazy.”

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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