June 1, 2009

Contact: Ed Wilson
             Don Drysdale

SACRAMENTO – State and federal authorities will seal a hazardous, abandoned gold mine on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property near Twentynine Palms to protect public safety and wildlife. The site is less than one mile from the Joshua Tree National Park – which is about 120 miles east of  Los Angeles – and is frequented by four-wheel drive recreationalists and hikers.

“Closing this particular shaft was a high priority for California and the BLM because of its history and proximity to a national park,” said Dennis O’Bryant, head of the state’s Office of Mine Reclamation (OMR). “When it comes to old mines, we always advise the public to ‘stay out, stay alive,’ and closing this location will ensure people are protected.”

The history to which O’Bryant referred was an accident at the site in 1991 that claimed the life of hiker David T. Welcome, Jr. of Twentynine Palms. He fastened two chains together and lowered himself into the mine. When the chains broke apart, he fell to his death.

A contractor hired by OMR, part of the California Department of Conservation, is constructing a steel enclosure called a “cupola” at the Goat Basin Mine, also known as the Boss Mine. The structure over the 100-to-200 foot deep mine shaft will allow the bats that live inside to enter and exit while keeping humans out.

The Goat Basin Mine closure is one of about 50 joint OMR/BLM projects either completed or planned.

“This cooperative abandoned mine lands closure effort also extends throughout the desert from 29 Palms through Barstow, and into the Ridgecrest area,” said Sterling White, BLM Resource Protection Specialist.

In California, 42 incidents at abandoned mines involving 13 deaths, 32 injuries or near-misses, and      13 pet or other animal rescues have been reported since 2000. The state has about 1,400 active and idle mines and OMR’s Abandoned Mine Lands Unit (AMLU) estimates there are 47,000 abandoned mines in the state.

AMLU began funding abandoned mine remediation projects on California’s public lands in 2002 and has now remediated more than 580 hazardous mine features.  Methods used include: bat-compatible gates, cupolas, and culverts; polyurethane foam (PUF); backfills; wire fences; capping; and removal of hazardous debris. Projects to seal old mines are ongoing or planned in several locations around the state during June, including the Plumas, Shasta Trinity, and Tahoe national forests.

Aside from the obvious falling hazards, dangers associated with abandoned mines include unstable walls or structures that can collapse at a touch; dark, twisting tunnels in which an explorer can become lost; disease-carrying, predatory or poisonous animals which sometimes make old mines their homes; old explosives; drums of chemicals; exposure to toxics; and poisonous gases or low oxygen levels.

There is no comprehensive database that gives the precise location of most of California’s abandoned mines or their underground workings.  Many operated before the advent of any regulatory or reporting authority, or even statehood itself. Each mine may have multiple man-made “features,” such as shafts, tunnels, machinery, facilities or piles of waste rock that can pose either a physical or environmental hazard.

“We encourage anyone who discovers an abandoned mine in California to call our hotline, 1-877-OLD-MINE,” AMLU Manager Cy Oggins said.