Published March 1, 2003 | March 2003 issue
When Homestake Mining, Co. announced in September 2000 that it would close in legendary gold mine in Lead, nuclear physicists thought they'd struck gold. The 125-year-old mine, site of the world's first experiments in 1965 to prove that neutrinos existed, could be transformed into a vast underground neutrino laboratory.
State and local leaders were enthusiastic about the plan, and Homestake, which merged with Barrick Corp. in December 2001, was receptive. Two obstacles remained: Was it the best possible site scientifically? And could environmental liability issues be resolved? After reviewing the potential neutrino lab locations, the National Science Foundations put Homestake at the top of the list.
But the liability issue remained. Barrick said it wouldn't sell the mine unless relieved of all liability for future environmental problems. No one had been able to give Barrick that assurance and Barrick rejected a watered down indemnification bill passed by Congress.
The issue is now with the state. Gov. Mike Rounds suggested the Legislature must decide whether to use its taxing power to guarantee environmental cleanup. Lawmakers seem uncomfortable with the idea. And Barrick is unsure if the federal government will allow the state to underwrite liability.