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Tuesday, September 20, 2005


UPDATE--Homestake: Screwing the pooch a mile underground

{Here is an updated AP story on the Governor's plans to call a special session of the legislature to fund an "interim" lab:}

The Homestake Goldmine story is one of the most fucked-up accounts of what is going on with taxpayer money that George Orwell or Forest Gump could imagine. It is an indication of the educational and intelligence levels of the working press in South Dakota. Of course there are shenanigans and intellectual failures in the halls of government and corporate business, too.

Today, the Governor announced that the way has been cleared for the state to take over ownership of the mine from Barrick Gold in the process of transferring the mine to state ownership so that it can continue with its plans to be a contender for designation as the national Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL), a national resource to be developed under the auspices of the National Science Foundation.

In July, two sites received a half million dollars from the NSF to develop plans for becoming the DUSEL. Homestake was one of them.

In an announcement today, however, the Governor indicated that an "interim" laboratory will be set up, an indication that research will begin whether or not the laboratory receives the national designation from the NSF. One headline said the laboratory will be developed with or without the NSF designation. The problem with that is that if Homestake is not chosen to be the DUSEL site, what experiments and research programs will take place there? High school science fair projects?

Homestake and the Henderson Mine near Denver were selected by the NSF as the two sites from which the DUSEL would be chosen. Whichever site is chosen will be the place that the major research projects backed by federal programs and dollars will take place.

One of our posts from July explains the situation.

Joe Kafka of the Associated Press comes closest to providing a coherent account of what is going on with Homestake, but his story is still confusing about what an interim laboratory would amount to and what is being done with the NSF money to develop the DUSEL plan. It follows:

Gov. Mike Rounds said Monday that an agreement has been reached to allow the state to take possession of the abandoned Homestake Mine at Lead and proceed with planning for an interim underground science laboratory.

Officials want to locate the lab at the 4,850-foot level of the former gold and silver mine, and experiments could begin within a couple of years. The agreement with Homestake, which is owned by Barrick Gold Corp., would transfer
the mine to the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority. Rounds, Homestake officials, and members of the authority were scheduled to have a signing ceremony Tuesday in Lead.

"I want to personally thank Homestake for sharing in our vision to create an interim laboratory," Rounds said. "This agreement could not have happened without the hard work of a lot of individuals, including scientists from throughout the United States as well as people in South Dakota who care about their children's future." [Editorial comment: Huh?]

It will cost about $32 million to open and operate the interim laboratory through 2012, the authority has estimated. The state has access to $15.7 million of that amount, and it has asked Rounds to seek another $16.4 million.

The authority has decided it will not proceed with underground development until it receives the financing.

Homestake officials believe a contingency fund of at least $3.5 million should be created to handle any unanticipated costs connected to resurrection of facilities and equipment in the mine. [Another editorial comment: What the hell does this mean?]

The process of transferring ownership of the mine has involved lengthy and complicated negotiations, said Vince Borg, Barrick's vice president of public affairs.

"The easiest thing for us to have done was to simply follow through on closing the mine and that's it," he said Monday. "But a group of people had an idea that it could be used for an underground lab. That made our life a bit more complicated."

The state and Homestake signed an agreement in principle last year that called for the mining company to donate the property to the Science and Technology Authority once it has obtained funding, permits and the approval needed to construct and operate the underground lab.

Borg said plans for the interim lab have expedited the transfer process. "This allows for it to happen earlier," he said. "This is an amendment to the agreement in principle that deals with the timing for an interim laboratory as opposed to an ultimate laboratory."

The National Science Foundation announced in July that Homestake is one of two sites to receive $500,000 to develop a conceptual design for the underground lab, and officials believe development of an interim lab will improve the chances of eventual NSF funding for a permanent lab. [How does that work?]

Rounds said the lab would help South Dakota become a leader in scientific research and technology.

"This site will become an important tool for scientists throughout the world," the governor said. [Hey, Gov. Not unless it is the DUSEL.]

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