On July 11, 2022, the United States Forest Service released a draft decision for gold exploration by F3 Gold, LLC, a gold exploration/mining company based in Minnesota.

The draft decision found “no significant impact” for the company’s exploration proposal, permitted the company to construct up to 47 drill pad sites, and approved a depth of up to 6,000 feet for boreholes.

There’s no indication of whether the holes will be vertical or at an angle on this six-acre site in the Jenny Gulch area of Pactola Reservoir. Conceivably, some boreholes could extend below Pactola Reservoir, as the drill area is less than a half mile from Pactola, and the company owns mineral leases that include portions of Pactola Reservoir.

The USFS cited the General Mining Act of 1872 as justification for the draft decision, but we can all agree Rapid City has changed substantially over the last 150 years.

F3 Gold is not the only foreign interest that believes that an open pit, heap leach gold mine in the Rapid Creek drainage of the Black Hills is a great idea. Mineral Mountain Resources is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and currently is conducting exploratory drilling in the Rochford area. This company’s website reveals they are down-right giddy over the prospects of an open pit gold mine directly within the upper Rapid Creek drainage – the source of water recharge for Pactola Reservoir and both aquifers that provide Rapid City’s drinking water.

Whether or not the mineral exploration of these and other entities present an immediate, significant environmental impact to the Black Hills is open to debate. What is not debatable are the potentially catastrophic consequences an open pit gold mine in or near the Rapid Creek drainage would pose to Pactola Reservoir and ultimately Rapid City.  

A typical open pit, heap leach gold mine utilizes toxic chemicals, including cyanide, to extract gold from the mined ore. Some of the cyanide and other toxins are accumulated in holding ponds, while the remainder migrates into the surrounding soil and ultimately the groundwater. The accumulated mine tailings are a constant source of acid drainage into the soil and groundwater.

History has proven that these holding ponds often break, releasing their toxic sludge into adjoining lands and waterways. In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency attempted to clean up the Gold King Mine in Colorado. The cleanup went poorly and 3 million gallons of orange, toxic wastewater was released into the Animas River, which decimated much of the aquatic life in the river. Should a gold mine be permitted in the Rochford area, studies have shown that a similar discharge of toxins into upper Rapid Creek from a holding pond or otherwise would reach Pactola Reservoir in 28 minutes.

The Black Hills are not without their own history of environmental disasters caused by gold mines, though the suggestion is we should now allow history to repeat itself in the upper Rapid Creek Watershed. The Whitewood Creek Superfund Site covers an 18-mile stretch of Whitewood Creek in Lawrence, Butte, and Meade Counties. Homestake Mine was identified as the responsible party for the contamination.  For decades, this stretch of Whitewood Creek has been nearly devoid of any significant aquatic life and according to some is just now beginning to recover.  In 1999, the Canadian-based Brohm Mining Company abandoned their open pit Gilt Edge gold mine in Lead, leaving behind 150 million gallons of heavy metal-laden toxic sludge in 3 waste ponds. The heavy metal toxins present in this wastewater include arsenic, thallium, copper, selenium, zinc, and lead. The bond posted by this Canadian company was completely inadequate and the nearly $89 million of clean-up costs were passed on to the taxpayers.

There is only one reason these companies are exploring for gold, and that is simply for a financial profit. I believe they do not have the best intentions for our beautiful Black Hills. The time has come for a frank and honest discussion of the benefits versus the burden of a gold mine in the Rapid Creek drainage, and the potentially catastrophic consequences it could have on Rapid City.

In February 2020 the Rapid City Common Council passed a resolution opposing gold exploration and mining in the Rapid Creek Watershed. Rapid City currently owns 89% of the water rights in the Pactola Reservoir and has a vested interest in maintaining the water quality of this primary source of potable water for the city. South Dakota has invested millions of dollars in recent years to attract tourism and businesses to this state. The absurd suggestion that an open pit or any other type of gold mine in the Rapid Creek Watershed is a risk worth taking should be addressed now before the next proposal from one of these foreign interests is to begin mining operations.