NR 2006-18
June 27, 2006

Contact: Ed Wilson
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
(916) 323-1886


SACRAMENTO – The Office of Mine Reclamation (OMR) and the U.S. Forest Service are protecting public safety by plugging the abandoned Otter Creek Mine on June 26 and 27. The mine is located near Georgetown on El Dorado U.S. Forest Service property.

“When we visited the mine recently we could hear singing. It was coming from a nearby elementary school,” said Cy Oggins, head of OMR’s Abandoned Mine Lands Unit. “That was a pretty good clue that we needed to get the mine sealed. Children and old mines are a bad combination, and there was plenty of evidence that people had been inside the mine.”

A contractor hired by OMR, part of the California Department of Conservation, will install a 20-foot long, 6-foot-around steel culvert with a gate at the entrance inside the adit (tunnel). The culvert will stabilize the mine and prevent people from going inside, as well as maintain portions of the adit that officials believe may be bat habitat. It will be placed roughly halfway inside the adit and the remaining sloughing material above it will be pulled down, burying the culvert and producing a stable slope.

Since 2002, OMR has partnered with a variety of local, state and federal agencies to remediate more than 250 hazardous abandoned mining features around the state. The type of remediation – fencing, backfilling, polyurethane foam plugs, bat-compatible gates or demolition – depends on the mine’s location, condition and other factors.

“Often, we’re concerned about hazards associated with abandoned mines, such as falling into vertical shafts,” said Department of Conservation Assistant Director Doug Craig, head of OMR. “That isn’t the case here. It’s an adit, or tunnel, that goes back several hundred feet. But the material at the entrance is crumbling and looks like it could collapse at any time. It’s clearly a dangerous place to go.”

Six years ago, an OMR report estimated that there are 47,000 abandoned mines in California. While the Otter Creek site was dug in the 1970s and abandoned because no valuable minerals were found, many abandoned mines pre-date any regulatory or reporting authority, or even statehood itself.

There is no comprehensive database that gives the precise location of most these mines or their underground workings. Each mine may have multiple man-made “features,” such as shafts, tunnels, machinery, facilities or tailing piles that can present either a physical or environmental hazard.

OMR has concentrated its efforts on the physical hazards associated with abandoned mines and features. In the past nine years, Abandoned Mine Lands Unit staff visited more than 2,300 abandoned mine sites and inventoried more than 13,500 features. Sites known to have drawn curious members of the public or those that are located close to homes, roadways, or recreational areas are given top priority for remediation.

“There seems to be an accident related to abandoned mines every few months in California,” Oggins said. “There’s been one fatality and a handful of near-misses since March. As more people choose to live or recreate in areas associated with historic mining, the likelihood for encounters with abandoned mine hazards increases, and our efforts become more crucial.”

When it comes to abandoned mines, OMR’s motto is “Stay Out, Stay Alive.” Anyone who encounters an abandoned mine site is asked to call 1-877-OLD-MINE so the site can be investigated and ultimately remediated.

“We’ve made a great deal of progress in finding and prioritizing abandoned mines in the last few years, but we still have a ways to go,” Department of Conservation Director Bridgett Luther said. “We appreciate mining’s contributions to California’s history and the modern industry’s approach to environmental stewardship. However, we must continue to address this unfortunate legacy of bygone mining eras to protect public safety.”

In addition to ensuring the reclamation of land used for mining, the Department of Conservation studies and maps earthquakes and other geologic phenomena; regulates oil, gas and geothermal wells; maps and classifies areas containing mineral deposits; administers agricultural and open-space land conservation programs; and promotes beverage container recycling.