Running a marathon, underground

South Dakota State Roundup

Published January 1, 2007  | January 2007 issue

The competition for an underground national laboratory—most likely in one of several abandoned mines—is reaching the stretch run, and South Dakota's Homestake Mine got the equivalent of a strong tail wind this summer. It came in the form of a $70 million donation from T. Denny Sanford to fund infrastructure improvements and lab operations at the former gold mine located in Lead on the far western side of the state.

The National Science Foundation is responsible for making the final choice, and the front-runners are Homestake and the Henderson mine in Colorado. In October, the NSF asked for more detailed lab proposals from both mines, and the final decision is expected later this year, possibly in the spring.

Much of Sanford's donation is contingent on the NSF designation, and the total might not be necessary should the NSF not see the need for certain improvements that Sanford's donation is earmarked for, like the development of a lab at 7,400 feet below ground, which would be the world's deepest. Sanford made his fortune as owner of First Premier Bank and founder of Premier Bankcard in Sioux Falls.

Ronald A. Wirtz