Information, observations, and analysis from the James River valley on the Northern Plains-----
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Anyone who has been involved in efforts to bring new enterprises to South Dakota gets disheartened. People who are approached about coming to South Dakota snicker a lot. When South Dakota got the idea to get in the running as the site of the SuperConducter SuperCollider, which never did get built, the snickering was humiliating. The selection committee made comments about the families of scientists and technicians needing something to do and first-rate educational facilities to attend and that there should be a labor pool qualified to work in small particle physics. Some guy from Brookings turned their snickering into an ear-shattering guffaw when he said that our technical schools could train physicists to work on the collider.
One of the successful things about getting Ellsworth off the closure list for a time was the fact that very few truly stupid comments got into the record. Ellsworth had been built into a facility that carries out its mission with great efficiency and a sense of purpose. The people involved in making presentations before the BRAC Commission had years of solid work to support their arguments. Contrived and silly arguments, which are generally fatal, were not made.
But one of the big factors in the saving of Ellsworth is that people trained in high technology will not be leaving the state anytime soon. Keeping people who know and and can work with complicated technology is a key to an economy that keeps pace with global developments.
South Dakota has another opportunity to build on technology in West River. The Homestake Goldmine is one of the two finalists as the site for a National Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory. It got a suprising reprieve to compete for that lab.
When a national underground lab was first proposed, Homestake, at which some independent experiments had already been done, was a natural choice. The nation's most prominent physicists quickly put their names on a list in support of Homestake. The features that they needed for their science were already built into the mine.
But then entered the mine owner, Barrick Gold. The gold company wanted to be exempt from potential environmental liabilities if it gave the mine over to government agencies for scientific purposes. It blackmailed the government groups by threatening to turn off the pumps that keep the mine from filling with water if its demands were not met. It did just that, and nearly all the scientists who had supported the Homestake proposal backed away and turned their efforts to other locations for an underground laboratory.
Nothing ruins good science as much as the involvement of a corporate bureaucracy. Academic bureaucracies are bad enough as personalities vie with each other, often, instead of advancing science. But in corporate bureaucracies, the bottom line and personal status are the sole objectives. Good science is scarcely a possibility. And so, the scientists defected.
But the inherent features of Homestake kept it in the running as the site of the NUSEL. Even while filling up with water, its potential won out over many other possible sites throughout the nation. Now it is down to Homestake and the Henderson Mine in Colorado. The National Science Foundation has given each place a half million dollars to come up with final proposals.
If Homestake is chosen, the Black Hills and South Dakota could be on track for finding a place in the post-industrial global economy. The Ellsworth experience could be a pattern for the Homestake proposal. An earnest, credible, and reliable presentation of the facts and potential could make Homestake, which already has an edge, the home of the National Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory.