Nevada Division of Minerals’ Abandoned Mine Lands program has had a good year, receiving the division’s first national award, completing closure projects and so far in 2019 not recording any accidents at old mines in what could become the sixth accident-free year.
“For the past five years there have been no recorded incidents or deaths attributable to these legacy mine hazards,” said Nevada Division of Minerals Administrator Richard Perry, who reported the program has secured more than 18,000 abandoned mine hazards since 1987, when the program started.
“Hazardous abandoned mines are found throughout Nevada and pose a significant risk to human and animal life. These mining features can be shafts, adits (horizontal openings), open pits or stopes (stepped excavations) and are very unstable due to their age and can be difficult to see when exploring Nevada,” he said.
The National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs presented Nevada with the 2019 Hardrock Award for Remediation of Physical Safety Hazards for the Gold Butte National Monument abandoned mines project finished in October 2018 in southern Nevada.
The national association presented the award in September at its convention in Pittsburgh, and Perry said Nevada will be hosting the 2020 National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs gathering in South Lake Tahoe Sept. 20-23.
The Gold Butte effort was a partnership between the division and the Clark County Desert Conservation Program, with the division managing the project and contributing slightly more than half of the funds with mining claim fees. The conservation group funded the other half.
According to the application that the division’s abandoned mines program chief, Robert Ghiglieri, submitted for the national award, the Gold Butte work covered 40 mine closures within a 220-square-mile area and encompassed the Bunkerville and Gold Butte historic mining districts.
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President Barack Obama established the Gold Butte National Monument in December 2016 to cover nearly 300,000 acres, and shortly his action, the Nevada Division of Minerals, Nevada Department of Wildlife and Clark County Desert Conservation Program recognized that several clusters of dangerous abandoned mine hazards were in the area.
“It was also known that some of these mines contained well-established bat and desert tortoise habitat, which meant the construction of wildlife-compatible closures would be necessary,” Ghiglieri wrote.
The work included the use of a helicopter because of the distances and timeline. Ghiglieri said Gold Butte was the largest surface-area project the division had attempted. The project was done in September and October 2018 within a budget $269,349. The division spent $139,394 of that amount, and the conservation program, $129,955.
Gold Butte work is included in the division of minerals report for 2018 that was published earlier this year. The report on 2019 work will come out next year, but Perry said a couple of major 2019 projects were the Gunmetal Mine in Mineral County and the closure of old shafts and tunnels at Mullen Pass in Washoe County.
Perry said the state minerals division is “legislatively mandated to conduct the state’s AML program to identify inactive mines, rank their degree of hazard and carry out activities to secure these sites, be it through owners or division staff.”
The program is funded through a $4 per claim annual assessment fee charged on unpatented mining claims in Nevada. The fee is collected by each county’s recorder when annual filings are recorded. The division also has programs to alert the public to the dangers of abandoned mines.
In 2018, the division completed 319 permanent closures in 12 of Nevada’s 17 counties, marking a record.
According to the division, there are an estimated 250,000 abandoned mine features in Nevada, and 50,000 of those may present physical safety hazards. The program has inventoried 100,000 historic mining features and catalogued more than 22,500 individual hazards. So far, 80 percent of those known hazards have been safeguarded or secured.
Partners in the abandoned mine effort include the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the Nevada Department of Wildlife, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, the State Historic Preservation Office, the Nevada Division of State Parks and Clark County.