Saturday, September 29, 2007

One-man 'occupation' of Slim Buttes protests uranium

Forest Service denies runoff sickening residents
By Bill Harlan, Journal staff

Harold One Feather is waging a one-man protest to spur the U.S. Forest Service into a quicker clean-up of an old uranium mine in the Slim Buttes in northwestern South Dakota.

“I’m a true environmentalist,” One Feather quipped in a static-plagued cell phone conversation from his remote campsite. “I’m actually out in the environment.”

One Feather, founder of the new Grand River Environmental Equality Network, said he was "occupying" the Slim Buttes, which are part of Custer National Forest.

One Feather said he had been mostly alone at his campsite since he arrived Sunday, but he is expecting more protesters from Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

The Grand River runs from Custer National Forest through several communities on the Standing Rock reservation, about 60 miles to the east.

One Feather and other Standing Rock residents say runoff from uranium mines may be making people on the reservation sick, though the Forest Service denies that charge.

"The answer to that is a proven 'no,'" Forest Service spokeswoman Laurie Walters-Clark said.

However, the Forest Service is investigating the extent of contamination caused by at least one a small uranium mine in the Slim Buttes. That investigation began last summer and should be complete by the end of this summer, Walters-Clark said. The investigation also includes several small exploration pits.

Walters-Clark is the Forest Service's on-scene coordinator for a $20 million Superfund clean-up of uranium mines set to begin this summer in the nearby Cave Hills, also in Custer National Forest.

A Forest Service study in 2005, and a study released this year by the South Dakota School of Mines &Technology, found higher than normal levels of uranium, molybdenum, arsenic and other metals on federal and private land near the mines.

The studies tested sediment, topsoil, groundwater and air. "Most of the health risks would be from ingesting materials," Walters-Clark said.

The clean-up on federal land in the Cave Hills will include re-grading and re-vegetating some ground. On land with the highest level of contamination, sediment and topsoil will be scraped off and removed to a clay-lined dump, Walters-Clark said.

Private land affected by run-off from federal land also will be cleaned up, Walters-Clark said.

Mines in the North Cave Hills unit of the national forest were operated by Kerr-McGee, now Tronox Inc. of Oklahoma City. Tronox is paying $15 million for the clean-up, which is regulated under the federal Superfund law.

The Forest Service is paying $5 million to clean up the site because original mine owners of the brief 1950s uranium boom are long gone, Walters-Clark said. "There were a lot of mom and pop operations," Walters-Clark said. "There were no responsible parties left."

Tronox expects to complete the Cave Hills cleanup in two or three years, Walters-Clark said.

There also were uranium mines in the South Cave Hills and at least one mine in the Slim Buttes, Walters-Clark said, but those operations were smaller. A clean-up there would be at least two years away.

Walters-Clark said the Forest Service had been studying the problem since the early 1990. "It's simply a long process," she acknowledged. "The Forest Service had to prove there was a hazard."

But Walters-Clark said contamination from uranium mines on the national forest did not threaten the health of people who live on the Grand River, which the state monitors. "There are state laws and regulations, and we're adhering to them," she said.

So far, the Forest Service has been unable to convince One Feather and other members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that the old uranium mines do not pose a threat to their communities downstream. "There's a lack of trust," Walters-Clark said.

The Forest Service has not responded to One Feather's one-man occupation of the Slim Buttes. "I saw him on the road," Walters-Clark said. "He's not doing anything illegal. He's just using his national forest."

Contact Bill Harlan at 394-8424 or

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igmuska said...

This direct action occupation took place this past summer, May 12 to June 21, 2007!

ginabeloved said...

I hope his voice will be heard.

Anonymous said...

Wait, so this man caused the government to spend 20 million dolars. I know its contaminated, but i feel that there are other places like islam in more trouble.

igmuska said...

Hey anonymous, I wish you could drink some of the water or let your children swim in the rivers contaminated by the uranium mines need to fuel your "safe" nuclear energy and make your bombs.
If Islam is so important, then go over there and help them; instead you are the problem always taking things for granted like cheap far that theory is based on stealing from our Native American people disguised as civilizing and self-determination.

Anonymous said...

Can you not use a Geiger counter on the area to determine exposure?
Then ignore government "allowable" levels of any toxins as those amounts have more to do with your exposure than anything resembling safe levels.
Expose frog eggs or other fragile species to the water in which they expect your children to drink and play. Maybe setup a fish tank using the water.

If there are any issues they should appear in the more delicate species well in advance of hurting your family.

However, getting them to do research to determine safety would be a silly waste of time as they will always be able to make the results of research say whatever they like.

Anonymous said...

Well why do you let your children and others play and drink from a river that you say is contaminated?.....sounds retarded to me, i sure wouldn't. Even if they do clean up the mines it will not help as the grand rivers soil is contamitanted from years of run off. I suggest moving, why stay?