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News.bytesNews.bytes Extra, issue 411

Tour highlights abandoned mine dangers, progress

Congressional staff got a first-hand look at the challenges faced by agencies in addressing the risks remaining from the California gold rush during a Nov. 24 tour of abandoned mine sites.

The House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, chaired by Rep. Jim Costa, a former California State legislator and now Congressman from the 20th District, held a hearing in Sacramento Nov. 23 on risks from abandoned mine lands.  He was joined by Rep. Tom McClintock, from the 4th District and majority and minority subcommittee staff.

At the subcommittee's request, the BLM hosted a field tour of sites in the Mother Lode area of the Sierra foothills the following day. In addition to the subcommittee staff, the tour included field staff for Congressman McClintock and representatives from BLM, the Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, state Water Resources Control Board, state Department of Toxic Substances Control and Sierra Fund. (text continues below)

A man in a cap points to a spot on a map held by another man, as two women look on
Subcommittee staff Wendy Van Asselt, left, and Marcie Cooperman listen to a discussion of mercury issues by Dr. Charles Alpers, U.S. Geological Survey, and Marc Springer, BLM, at the You Bet Pit, a hydraulic mining site.

A common theme on the tour was cooperation by numerous agencies in addressing the risks due to mixed land ownerships and agency responsibilities and expertise.

Tour participants saw the results of large hydraulic mining operations at the You Bet Pit north of Colfax. Agency representatives discussed the hazards remaining from mercury that was used to extract the gold.

At BLM’s South Yuba River campgrounds, participants saw a culvert that was installed in a tunnel to prevent people from entering the tunnel. The culvert was sealed into the tunnel with foam, which was covered in rock for a natural appearance. A grating that allows bats to enter the tunnel but keeps people out was installed. As part of the ongoing interagency partnership, the Forest Service did the installation although the site is managed by BLM.

A man gestures as he explains the installation of a bat gate to several men and women 
Tour participants inspect a culvert installed in a tunnel at the BLM South Yuba River campground with a grating that allows passage by bats but prevents human access.

The tour concluded at the Davis stamp mill, where the ore was crushed and further processed to extract the gold. Randy Adams from DTSC talked about the need for collaboration among public and private parties to successfully clean up mine sites. For example, the source of mercury on BLM land may be on private land further upstream, so a coordinated effort is needed to successfully clean up the site.

More than a dozen people talk in front of an old barn-like building
Randy Adams, state Department of Toxic Substances Control, discusses cooperation by agencies to address risks on sites with mixed ownership at the Davis stamp mill.

- David Christy, BLM Central California District, 11/25/09

BLM-California News.bytes, issue 411

Last updated: 12-02-2009