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Reclaiming pass to start

After nearly two years of analysis regarding exposed uranium on a butte near Ludlow, S.D., the United States Forest Service is beginning preparations to reclaim the site.

The site in question was mined for uranium in the 1960's by Kerr-McGee, now known as Tronox, which is going to conduct the reclamation with oversight from the Forest Service. A mine located in the North Cave Hills of the Custer National Forest, specifically the Riley Pass site, is where the uranium is exposed.

The Forest Service is currently considering its best course of action to remove any possible risk the site may present.

"Right now there is a fair amount of planning going on," said Rusty Wilder, Forest Service coordinator for the Riley Pass site. "We're looking at some of the site data that they took last year."

Wilder said it is important they take their time and consider each option available to them so they can eliminate a need to possibly return to the site in the future.

Work began in the fall of 2007 and Wilder said ground work is to begin this spring and early summer to enable easier access to the site. For example, roads that have not been regularly used since the mine has been inactive are to be restored.

"If we're going to be moving equipment and hauling stuff from the sites, we want to make sure the roads are in a good condition to do that," Wilder said.

An archeological survey also is to be conducted by Forest Service staff to ensure no cultural or ancient artifacts are damaged in the reclamation of the site.

Site surveys conducted by the South Dakota Schools of Mines and Technology from Rapid City and the Environmental Protection Agency have concluded that very little hazardous material has left the site do to wind erosion, but some has left due to water transport.

"We think that it's an environmental concern," Wilder said. "We've obviously embarked on a course of action where it's probably important for us to be working on."

The thing with radioactivity is a lot of people don't really understand it, Wilder added.

"The levels that we're seeing is pretty insignificant...There is a fair amount of radiation exposure by just eating a banana or standing out in the sun," he said.

Uranium is not the only concern that those involved have about the site. While uranium can be dangerous, it is usually surrounded by other hazardous materials such as arsenic and selenium, among others.

"There are various metals that can be mobilized and they could be toxic to some of the animals in the biological community," Wilder said.

The solution the Forest Service and its consultants are leaning toward is one that involves the site being recovered to prevent these materials from further erosion and escape. Wilder added the uranium at the site has degraded over time.

The Forest Service intends to keep the public apprised of the situation, he said. Public information meetings are to be held in the future to ensure the public knows about the Forest Service plan and the situation as information becomes available.