Federal agencies seek to protect Pactola Reservoir and Rapid Creek from mining
A portion of the Pactola Reservoir in the Black Hills. (Seth Tupper/SD Searchlight)
Two federal agencies have announced a proposal to protect 32 square miles of the Black Hills National Forest from mining.
The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service made the announcement in a Friday news release. The proposal covers the Pactola Reservoir and Rapid Creek Watershed, which are popular recreation destinations that also serve as drinking water sources for Rapid City and Ellsworth Air Force Base.
The federal agencies are considering a 20-year “mineral withdrawal,” which means the area would be withdrawn from consideration for claims, exploration and mines.
“The Pactola Reservoir area includes valued cultural and natural resources important to tribes and local communities,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore in a news release. “We’re going to study the feasibility of withdrawing lands in the area because any activity that might affect these critical resources deserves a thorough review.”
The agencies said the move is “in response to concerns about potential impacts of mining on the area’s natural resources and municipal water supply.” The concerns have arisen over plans to conduct exploratory drilling in the area, including a project by Minneapolis-based F3 Gold. The news release from the federal agencies did not name any existing exploration plans or operations, or specify how those existing plans or operations would be affected by the proposal.
The Pactola Reservoir is the largest and deepest reservoir in the Black Hills National Forest, with 14 miles of shoreline, 150-foot depths and 800 acres of surface area in the central Black Hills. Water released from the reservoir into Rapid Creek flows down out of the mountains through Rapid City and onto the western South Dakota plains.
The proposed mineral withdrawal will go through a lengthy process, beginning with a 90-day review period that will include public meetings and consultations with affected Native American tribes. The proposal also triggers a two-year “segregation” of the affected land, which amounts to a temporary ban on staking new mining claims or obtaining new federal mineral leases in the area. The federal agencies will conduct an environmental analysis during that period.
The secretary of the interior, who will make the final decision on the proposal, has the authority to withdraw lands from mining activities for a maximum of 20 years, subject to renewal. Only Congress can legislate a permanent withdrawal.
“The BLM is pleased to work with the USDA Forest Service on this effort,” said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning in a news release. “This proposal will help protect a primary source of drinking water for South Dakotans as the Forest Service assesses a 20-year withdrawal.”
Beyond the Pactola Reservoir and the Rapid Creek Watershed, numerous other exploratory drilling projects are proposed or ongoing in various parts of the Black Hills. There is active exploratory drilling in the northern Black Hills, where gold mining has been ongoing since the late 1800s. The region currently has one large-scale, active gold mine — the Wharf Mine near Lead and Terry Peak.
There is also a proposal to mine for uranium in the southern Black Hills, and lithium claims have been proliferating around the Black Hills as companies seek supplies of the metal for electric-vehicle batteries.
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