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Oglala Sioux Tribe/Pine Ridge Reservation

Oglala Sioux Tribe /Pine Ridge Reservation flag

Open Dumps—A Thing of the Past

The landfill on Pine Ridge Reservation is proof that hard work and persistence pay off! Located in the southwest corner of South Dakota, Pine Ridge Reservation is home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST). Residents have used open dumps on the reservation to dispose of their trash for at least fifty years. After a lawsuit forced the Indian Health Service (IHS), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and OST to clean up open dump sites, the tribe decided to build a landfill to provide residents with a safe disposal alternative.

Transfer Station Versus Landfill

The tribe weighed all of its waste disposal options carefully before choosing to construct a landfill. First, OST considered building a transfer station and shipping waste to a state landfill. Typically, transfer stations cost less to build and operate than landfills. After speaking with state representatives, the tribe decided against this option because Pine Ridge Reservation is remote. Transportation costs and tipping fees would have added up quickly if OST shipped waste to a distant state landfill. The tribe decided to build a landfill and retain control of the costs associated with solid waste management on the reservation.

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Obtaining Funding

Motivated tribal employees acquired funding for landfill construction. Kim Clausen-Jensen, director of the Oglala Sioux Environmental Protection Program, and Bobby Sullivan, public involvement coordinator for the tribe, believe that personal relationships are the key to funding success. OST received funds from three major sources for the project—$561,000 from EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, $724,000 from IHS’s Sanitation Deficiency Service, and $1.2 million from the US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS).

Ms. Sullivan explained that the RUS grant application process was particularly difficult, so she called her regional RUS office for assistance and was introduced to Mavis Hass.

“I called Mavis all the time and camped out in the rural development office for two weeks while she walked me through the application process. She showed me what to do and helped me obtain the right signatures… The Rural Development [Service] staff are there to help you.” - Bobby Sullivan, public involvement coordinator for the tribe

Ms. Clausen-Jensen recognizes that it is important for tribes to follow the proper procedures and submit progress reports after receiving federal funding. She offers the following piece of advice: “Submitting the required reports helps the agency justify the project to internal federal reviewers and can help ensure that the project receives future funding. Live up to your end of the bargain—do what you said you would do.”

Siting Challenges

Ms. Clausen-Jensen describes the landfill siting process as a “hard, horrible experience.” Community members recognized that the facility was necessary, but didn’t want it in their own backyard. According to Ms. Clausen-Jensen, “These were members of our own tribe, our own family, and they were very hostile at times.” After countless presentations and discussions, the community agreed to a site for the landfill.

Unfortunately, resistance within the tribal council initially kept the landfill off the agenda. Ms. Sullivan and Ms. Clausen-Jensen worked to build a strong relationship with current and prospective council members by showing them blueprints and educating them about the benefits of the landfill. After an election, the new council approved the design and the site.

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Landfill Design

Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act lays out federal requirements for landfill design, construction, operation, and closure. During the landfill planning phase, OST discovered that it could apply for site-specific flexibility from one of these requirements. By demonstrating that the reservation’s clay soils perform the role of a composite liner the tribe avoided the expense of constructing a liner.

The tribe chose a “balefill” design, which requires baling waste into 1.1 ton blocks before placing it in the ground. The first section or “cell” of the landfill can handle waste from the reservation for 25 years.

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The Grand Opening!

In 2002, OST opened its landfill. Ms. Clausen-Jensen urges other tribes, “Just keep trying. Sometimes you just need to walk away from it all for a short period of time. Keep taking small steps—don't get frustrated.”

To learn more about OST’s landfill, contact Kim Clausen-Jensen or Bobby Sullivan at 605 867-5236.

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