After tough fight, Oglala council approves landfill

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PINE RIDGE, S.D. - After seven attempts to place the issue of a new solid waste system on the council floor, and a sometimes bitter two-day debate between tribal officials, a $150,000 loan for the project was approved.

The loan completes a $4.1 million financial package for construction of a new solid waste system on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The $150,000 is the tribe's 15 percent contribution to a federal grant of $850,000. Passed by a vote of 14 to 0, the resolution clears the way for construction to begin later this summer.

The plan calls for closure of nine, open-pit landfills located around the reservation. Fixed containers at various collection points will route the reservation's solid waste to a single bailer facility in the Pine Ridge District which will replace the pits. There the waste will be compressed into 1.5- to 2-ton bails and hauled to a regional landfill 10 miles south of Red Shirt Village in the Oglala District.

Kim Claussen-Jensen, director of environmental programs for the tribe, said the resolution comes just in time to build the landfill this construction season. "If we waited any longer, there'd be problems with ground compaction at the landfill site this fall. As it is, the schedule is going to be tight."

Some tribal officials expressed concerns over the location of the proposed Red Shirt Table landfill. OST Parks and Recreation Director Birgil Kills Straight said the Red Shirt site could jeopardize the tribe's bid for a National Scenic Byway designation along a route through the northern portion of the reservation. He said a similar effort was rejected in 1998 because trash could be seen along the route.

With a nod to Kills Straight's objections, the tribal council included language that requires Claussen-Jensen submit all landfill plans to the Parks and Recreation board of directors for final approval. During the debate, BIA Superintendent Bob Ecoffey offered to change the direction of road construction, taking the nearest road a mile away from the landfill site. "The council has identified both the Scenic Byway and the landfill as priorities, said Ecoffey. "There's no reason they can't have both if they can agree to a reasonable compromise."

The tribe has been negotiating with the National Park Service over the proposed Scenic Byway for several years. Part of the tribe's plan for economic development is a proposed $22 million to $26 million visitor center and museum near Sheep Mountain along the Scenic Byway.

Kill Straight said the Visitor Center would be an opportunity to introduce people to the best the Lakota people have to offer.

Tentative plans show the Scenic Byway leaving I-90 south at Exit 131 and Cactus Flat. From there the route follows SD 44 to Scenic. South of Scenic the route picks up BIA 27 to a junction with BIA 2. Continuing on BIA 2 across Cuny Table, the Scenic Byway extends off the reservation into the small community of Buffalo Gap, near SD 79.

Kills Straight emphasized all plans were still in delicate negotiations and nothing was final.