Saturday, August 29, 2015

Not everything left behind is good

When you look at abandoned mine sites and see what remains, not everything they left behind is good.

You practically can’t throw a rock without hitting a mining ruin in Colorado. Estimates vary, but most agree there are at least 20,000 mining sites abandoned in the state. Some of them have entire ghost towns nearby, some of them are merely holes in the ground haphazardly filled in and left by the miners. While I love exploring what they left behind, the worst part of the remains of mining is something you can sometimes only notice by an absence.

Preston, the mining site I took these photos at, is a good example. Once it was a town of 150 people, working a mine and a stamp mill. Not much remains. Part of the stamp mill still stands, it’s decay arrested by the local historical society. The mine shaft on the mountain above that once sent down ore via a tram system is fenced off with a high modern fence. I don’t know if the activity is current mining or cleanup. If it is cleanup, it’s a pretty rare place. Most of the mines in the state have no clean up operations at all. The huge expensive houses just down the road from the site might explain why action is being taken.

shoot-428All of these mine sites need to be cleaned up. Few of them will be. The most dangerous, like the Gold King mine that blew out not long ago will get attention. The reason is that these mines are governed by outdated laws. The mining companies pay no royalties, unlike coal mining and oil, to take gold out of the ground. There is no requirement for remediation after they close. They use toxic chemicals to extract gold from the ore, they pile the waste up in mounds, then they walk away, cost free. And if anyone else comes behind them and cleans it up, that someone else is responsible for any future problems. The owners’ responsibility is negligible at best.

Todd Hennis, the owner of Gold King Mine, had pushed for more clean up. In fact, he had pointed out the nature of the problem and had tried to get it dealt with properly, but other mine owners in the area are sitting back and denying any responsibility.

The pond by the stamp mill in Preston is an odd shade of green. There are no fish in it I saw, nor in the nearby stream. No tadpoles, no nothing. The water looks clear while it moves, and I don’t know if it is polluted, but there doesn’t seem to be anything living in it.

Not everything left behind is good

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