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Groups oppose plans to close abandoned mines

Published: Sunday, Aug. 10 2008 1:09 a.m. MDT

Mine enthusiast Stuart Burgess stands at the operating helm of the Eagle-Bluebell Hoise Room near Eureka. Division of Oil, Gas and Mining plans to backfill and close 116 abandoned mines in the area. Groups including Mojave Underground and Gold Rush Expedition oppose the move saying the division is rubbing out Utah's mining history, but the division says it is protecting the public from hazards.

Mike Capps

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EUREKA, Juab County — Plans to bury or seal 116 abandoned mines near this semi-ghost town are drawing opposition from groups saying Utah's mining legacy is getting the shaft.

But officials from the state Division of Oil, Gas and Mining — which plans to begin reclamation work on the abandoned mines this week — said, "Stay out, stay alive." They also said they are eliminating "attractive nuisances" that pose a liability to land owners and potentially fatal dangers to mine enthusiasts venturing into the mine shafts.

"These mines are clearly a hazard to the (landowners) and recreating public," said Luci Malin, administrator of the division's Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program.

Orem resident Mike Capps, 22, and members of Mojave Underground, a group dedicated to preserving mining history, said the division's plan to backfill or grate 116 mines on the outskirts of Eureka, a town 40 miles southwest of Provo, will stamp out an important chapter of that region's legacy.

"It's a loss to Utah's history," Capps said of the proposed project. "(Mining) is really what made the West what it is."

Capps, who estimates he and other members of Mojave Underground have explored a combined total of 500 mines throughout the West — they always do so with the permission of landowners — said more people are killed or injured riding bikes compared with the number killed or injured in abandoned mines in Utah.

Louis Admodt, project manager for the mining division, said there are myriad dangers underground, such as cave-ins and pockets of black damp, or areas lacking oxygen. The division is trying to stop young children from going into mines and getting killed.

"That's what we're trying to protect against," he said.

Admodt said the division is filling in the majority of mines because it is cheaper than sealing mines off with a grate, $1,200 compared to $3,000. Besides, he said, the division won't do reclamation work unless it has permission from property owners.

Mojave Underground also is concerned with damage done to mining sites during reclamation work, Capps said, which typifies the division's disregard for history. Foremost on their minds is the case of the Bullion Beck headframe, equipment on the National Register of Historic Places that was smashed and splintered in March 1986 while a contractor was placing a gird on a 1,200-foot-deep mine shaft.

Malin said that unfortunate occurrence was an isolated incident, and the division went to great lengths to mitigate the damage done to the headframe.

"We go out of our way and do more than what is required to make sure that Utah's mining legacy and history and heritage is preserved," she said.

Russell Hartill, an attorney in Sandy who's written a book about the history of mining in California, said he thinks dumping dirt and rocks down a mine shaft to preserve history is an oxymoron.

"They seem to be more interested in rescuing a mine cart and sticking it at a roadside rest stop and saying, 'That's our mining heritage,"' he said.

Draper resident Corey Shuman, 35, a member of Gold Rush Expeditions Inc., a nonprofit group that works to preserve mine sites across Utah, said they're not heavily involved with Eureka because most of the sites were destroyed when the Environmental Protection Agency did lead abatement work there years ago. However, he said he's sad to see mine sites disappear off the map.

"(Mining) is a huge piece of history that Utah has to offer the nation that we're cutting our own throats on," he said.


E-mail: jdana@desnews.com

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