By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – A total of 62.1 percent of registered Fall River County voters went to the polls last Tuesday, Nov. 8, for the General Election, which was just above the statewide voter turnout of 59.4 percent.
One of the most talked about ballot items in Fall River County leading up to the election was the Initiated Measure to determine if uranium mining should be considered a nuisance and thus in violation of county ordinance.
In that race, the “Yes” votes – which meant uranium mining should be considered a nuisance – won by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent, or 1,993 votes to 1,538 votes which is a difference of 455.
A closer look at the nine precincts shows that the ‘Yes’ votes won six precincts and the ‘No’ votes won three.
Edgemont area residents – who reside closest to the planned Dewey-Burdock in situ uranium project – showed their support of the uranium project and were against the measure with 62% of their residents voting No, while 60% of Oral (Beaver precinct) residents and 56% of Oelrichs residents also voted No.
Precincts supporting the measure, with the majority of their residents voting Yes, included Cascade (64%); Hot Springs Ward 1 (62%); Hot Springs Ward 2 (57%); Hot Springs Ward 3 (63%); Hot Springs Ward 4 (62%), and Jackson (62%) which is the rural area surrounding the city of Hot Springs.
The initiated measure regarding uranium mining was placed on the ballot following a 4-1 decision by the Fall River County Commission at their Aug. 11, 2022, meeting, after 448 people signed a petition and submitted it to the commission.
At that Aug. 11 meeting, Fall River County States Attorney Lance Russell advised the commission to not add it to the ballot because, he said, the county does not have the authority to regulate uranium mining per S.D. Codified Law, which puts it in the realm of state and federal jurisdiction. Hot Springs Attorney Jim Sword, who penned the petition, however argued that the signatures had nothing to the do with the permitting process and only represented the citizens’ right to determine what was a nuisance in their county.
Both attorneys however acknowledged that it would ultimately be decided by the court system as to whether or not the nuisance declaration could prevent uranium to be legally mined, whereas enCore Energy/Powertech is currently awaiting a final decision from the state and federal government for the applicable permits to being In Situ Leach mining in the Dewey-Burdock area of Fall River and Custer Counties.
Following the results of last week’s election, both sides of the uranium issue were asked to submit a statement describing their reaction to the vote.
Hot Springs resident Ben Sharp, who was one of several people who had expressed their opposition to uranium mining through opinion submissions to the newspaper and at public meetings hosted by enCore Energy, said: “The results of the public referendum on uranium mining in Fall River County are now in: collectively we have said ‘no’ to EnCore Energy.”
“We should recall that this is the second time that Fall River County only narrowly chose to say ‘no’ to the risk of radioactive contamination,” Sharp stated. “More than 30 years ago, a different out of state corporation – Honeywell Inc. – wanted to test depleted uranium weapons in the steep canyons north of the Cheyenne River. At the time, local opinions were narrowly divided. But with the benefit of hindsight, does anyone today honestly regret that instead we have a wild horse sanctuary? I am confident that in future years and decades we will all agree that we also made the right choice about uranium mining, for ourselves and our grandchildren.”
Representatives with enCore Energy said they did not have any additional comments to share following the election, however, prior to the vote, enCore’s Executive Chairman Bill Sheriff stated the following:
“We’ve gone through the permitting process and demonstrated that the extraction technology is sound and that measures have been taken to protect public water resources. County ordinances do not supercede state law and our extraction of uranium deposits is in accordance with state and federal law,” Sheriff said. “The nuisance declaration would give residents legal standing to file a lawsuit, albeit an illegitimate one, as enCore energy owns the mineral rights which authorizes extraction of those resources in accordance with state and federal law. At the end of the day, enCore doesn’t feel that a nuisance declaration by the county would have any significant legal standing that would deter uranium extraction.”
Aside from the uranium vote on last week’s ballot, there were also a number of statewide races and ballot measures where results in Fall River County pretty much matched those statewide and saw Republicans handily defeating their Democratic and Libertarian opposition.
While the end result was the same, their margins of victory however were slightly higher amongst local voters, as Sen. John Thune earned 70% statewide, compared to 76% in Fall River County; Rep. Dusty Johnson earned 77% statewide, compared to 78% in Fall River; and, Gov. Kristi Noem earned 62% statewide, compared to 73% in Fall River.
In other races, all other Republican candidates also dominated the day with Monae Johnson elected as Secretary of State (64% statewide, 75% in Fall River); Richard Sattgast elected as State Auditor (63% statewide, 71% in Fall River); Josh Haeder elected as State Treasurer (67% statewide, 76% in Fall River; Brock Greenfield elected as Commissioner of School and Public Lands (67% statewide, 77% in Fall River); Chris Nelson elected as Public Utilities Commissioner (69% statewide, 78% in Fall River).
For the statewide ballot issues, Fall River County results again followed suit with statewide results as Constitutional Amendment D, which expanded Medicaid eligibility, passed by a margin of 56% to 44% statewide. While in Fall River County, the margin was closer at 51% to 49%.
Statewide, Initiated Measure 27, which would have legalized the possession, use and distribution of recreational marijuana, was defeated 53% to 47%. In Fall River County, the margin was a bit wider at 55% to 45%.