Utah working to close about 200 abandoned mines


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(AP) — The state of Utah plans to seal off about 200 abandoned mines this spring as part of a decades-long quest to plug mines that are part of the state’s western legacy.

The Deseret News reported this year’s closure effort targets an area near the Gold Hills mining district known as the Clinton Hills project. It’s about 150 miles west and south of Salt Lake City near the Nevada border.

The project in western Utah is one of the largest undertaken in the area. A 2008 effort sealed off 158 mine openings in the Gold Hill mining district.

Project manager Chris Rohrer of the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Mining said officials are working with property owners to choose the right type of closure method for each mine. They can build masonry walls, install metal grates or backfill the shaft to seal the mine entrances. The project should take about three months to complete.

The Gold Hill district was once a booming area with more than 3,000 people, its own newspaper, a recreation hall and a railroad spur. Now it’s sparsely populated but dotted with hundreds of old mines that once produced gold, other metals and arsenic.

The Gold Hill mining area was active in the late 1800s, saw mining rebound during World War I and again during World War II when it produced tungsten and metallic arsenic, which is alloyed with lead to form a harder, more durable product.

The abandoned mines are hazardous to off-road vehicle users, hikers and others who explore the area. The problem is national, but especially bad in the deserts of Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California.

Utah had multiple fatalities in the 1980s and a large number of injuries and falls, Rohrer said. Those incidents have dropped off dramatically since the state and federal government launched an awareness campaign and started closure programs.

Utah alone has between 17,000 and 20,000 mine openings. The state has sealed off about 6,000 abandoned mines since the early 1980s.

The state has sealed most mines along the Wasatch Front and Oquirrh Mountains, but Rohrer said the division’s work is far from over.

“We have worked our way through a lot of the high-priority areas, but we are by no means scraping the bottom of the barrel,” he said. “There is really no corner of the state that is untouched by mines.”

The division received national recognition for the completion of a two-year project in the San Rafael region to close 158 Cold War-era uranium mines — a logistically challenging project because of rough terrain. In that instance, all known mines were closed.

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