Pine Ridge landfill project could be in jeopardy

RAPID CITY, S.D. - Taking advantage of a lunch break during an Oglala Sioux Tribal Finance Committee meeting, Tribal Environmental Protection Director Kim Claussen mounted three large maps in the meeting room.

The maps were part of her presentation for a proposed state-of-the-art landfill to be constructed on the Pine Ridge Reservation this summer.

The project coordinated by Claussen involves six federal agencies and $4.1 million. Tom Begeman, an engineer for the Indian Health Service stationed on the reservation's LaCreek District, says time is becoming critical. The construction season for Western South Dakota is about the time needed to complete the landfill, he says.

But that landfill may never get built. Immediately upon returning from the break, Tribal Treasurer Wesley Jacobs ordered the maps be taken down. Obviously upset, Claussen said she had been trying to get a half-an-hour from the council for seven weeks. Jacobs immediately countered, saying, "If we don't get our financial systems taken care of there may not be a tribe to handle your project."

The finance committee had been meeting with accountants and representatives from the BIA Aberdeen office trying to re-certify the tribe's financial system. Pine Ridge BIA Superintendent Bob Ecoffey told council members that if the tribe did not receive at least "provisional certification within a few weeks, funding for all its Public Law 638 programs could be in serious jeopardy. These programs account for more than $40 million of the money that comes onto the reservations economy.

Claussen left the room in obvious frustration. Later she said the tribe could be in danger of having to pay large fines to the federal Environmental Protection Agency if it does not get its landfill problems resolved. "Those fines could be in the amount of thousands of dollars per day. It could happen, it's happened before.

Claussen also said that she thought politics might be involved, referring to the turmoil surrounding the takeover of the tribe's Red Cloud Building.

The landfill would be located 18 miles north of the reservation's Loneman School community. It is a site with problems, Jacobs said. The tribe's Parks & Recreation Board has been negotiating with the National Parks Service for a proposed scenic byway designation that would pass within two miles of the proposed landfill site.

Parks & Recreation Board Director Birgil Kills Straight said rare crystals, found in only one other place in the world, might be adversely affected by construction of the landfill.

"We do need the landfill, but more studies need to be done," Kills Straight said.

Finding a site for the landfill has been an ongoing problem, Claussen said. Local opposition killed the original site, a few miles west of Pine Ridge, Jacobs said.

Claussen was tasked by the council a year ago to make the modern facility a reality. The tribal director is widely credited as the driving force for making the $4.1 million dollars for the badly needed project available.