Homestake bills pass Legislature

Michelle Herrick

Michelle Herrick

PIERRE (CNS) – 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 NSF 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 enhance 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 Science 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. “It is 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 $3.5 million to purchase liability insurance. The total cost of the Homestake Mine project for the state is $24. 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.”