Will mining return to Park County? | SummitDaily.com

Will mining return to Park County?

LINDA BALOUGH
special to the daily

Special to the Daily/Linda Balough

PARK COUNTY ” Could mining once again come back to these mountains? In Park County, perhaps it will.

The call of “gold!” in 1857 brought thousands of people to the Colorado Mineral Belt, including what is now Summit, Clear Creek, Park and other counties to glean not only gold, but a variety of other metals and minerals the world needed. Mining brought men to the height of riches during boom periods and crushing poverty during busts in which the mineral veins ran out.

Now, the strict regulations on mining in Colorado and the possible conflicts between new housing and mining companies raise questions about whether full-scale mining can ever return to the economically struggling county.

War, however, could bring it back.

Armor for the soldiers

Recently, there has been a revival in interest in mines near Lake George that in the 1950s, were the biggest suppliers of beryllium ” used to make bullet-proof vests in the United States.

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Lindsey Maness, a geologist and owner of a mine in the area, hosted a symposium last summer in Fairplay to entertain the idea of re-opening some of the mines that he is sure still contain considerable amounts of beryllium. He gathered people from all parts of the mining industry, including geologists who worked the area in its mining heyday.

The primary mine, the Boomer, stopped production, not because the beryllium ran out, but from internal financial problems among the owners. Maness’s holdings are in an area that is known to yield topaz and other semi-precious stones, enough to hold his attention and perhaps provide a small income, but it is beryllium that raised his enthusiasm.

“… the bullet-proof vests … can save the lives of our boys in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Maness said. “The faster we produce body armor in quantity, the more of our sons and daughters will come home, and the quicker this war will end.” He added that there is some research in using the material in armoring American aircraft and ground equipment, as well.

In other applications, beryllium is used in aerospace technology, optics such as space telescopes, laser applications and electronics.

According to Maness, the demand for beryllium is increasing worldwide. “I’ve been talking with people in Indonesia, China and other places that are very interested in the beryllium market,” he said.

How is beryllium mined?

At Brush-Wellman’s Spor Mountain near Delta, Utah, the largest known beryllium deposit in the world, the mining is done on a huge scale of open pit extraction.

However, the mines in the Lake George area were never large and were only operated by a handful of workmen. Maness hopes to form a co-op of ranchers who have the small mines on their property. He said mining in the Lake George area would be a scattering of small operations tapping into the various deposits through shallow digging that would follow the “pipes” in which beryllium exists in this area.

Is it dangerous?

According to EPA reports on the Boomer Mine, the mines are innocuous because there is no acid drainage. Water (and the gold metal fishing in the Tarryall) in the area would no be affected if the mines were re-activated.

Of course, the state Division of Minerals and Geology will regulate and inspect any new mining operations. It has been found that in processing beryllium, unless there are careful safety measures taken, there is a deadly threat to some people pre-disposed to reaction to some forms of beryllium. However, according to geologist Maness and others, mining would not constitute a threat to miners, neighbors or water.

Does this mean hundreds of big ore trucks running in and out of Summit County to get to the Utah operation?

David Abott, of Behre Dolbear and Company, an international mineral industry consultant in Denver, said he feels the strongest possibilities for renewed beryllium mining will be if a plant is positioned in Park County to process the ore. Beryllium is extremely light, and once the heavy ore is processed, he believes transportation requirements would be small and costs much less, even if some is transported to Utah. His estimate of a plant of a size to process the ore available in this area is about $10 million dollars.

Housing versus Mining

The demand for housing and recreation in the popular Hoosier Pass-Alma area may still keep the mines quiet in that region.

In recent hearings concerning possible development of mining land in the Mosquito Range near Alma, local miners and geologists told the Park County Planning Board that the mountains still contain rich deposits of minerals and metals and should be held in reserve.

However, encroaching residential development poses a threat to the chances for mining to boost the economic health of Park County.

“Once houses are built on that land, mining companies don’t want to deal with the hassles and withdraw in favor of other areas,” said longtime mine owner Maurie Reiber as he urged the planning board to deny a request to re-zone mining areas to residential.

In past years, especially in the Mosquito, Alma and Snowstorm districts, land that had been zoned as mining property has been allowed to become large residential subdivisions, such as Placer Valley, Adventure Placer, Beaver Ridge, and much of Valley of the Sun.

Nearly a dozen residents of Alma, a town established in 1873 with the discovery of silver on Mount Bross, attended one planning meeting in mass to plead for the preservation of mining zoning in the mountains above their town. They said they felt more threatened by the possible influx of houses than of the highly-regulated mining industry.

After a lengthy hearing on Nov. 17, the Park County Board of County Commissioners did refuse rezoning of that mining land to residential, although in the same meeting, they allowed a high-end property on Hoosier Pass only a couple of miles away to rezone from mining to agricultural in order to become a legal guest ranch.

One of the conditions imposed on the guest ranch rezoning was a right-to-mine provision for claims on one side of the ranch property. The provision recognizes that mining is a superior right than the right to be free from noise, dust, and other mining related activities.

In regard to the proposed Gold Star development above Alma, Larry Johnson, a representative from the mining company seeking rezoning to residential said Chiwawa Mining has held claims on nearly 1,000 acres for more than 30 years and after extensive exploration had not been able to discover minerals or metals in sufficient quantity to make commercial mining profitable.

The stockholders in that company are pressing for some return on their investment, and it seemed to him reuse as residential property was the best use for the land. If the county continues to approve conditional use permits to allow one house per mining claim, Buckskin Gulch may still see an increase in housing among historic mining structures and inactive mines.

In other areas of Park County mining properties may face less pressure from housing demands and mine operations may revive. According to Dean Misantoni, a well-respected local geologist, there has been recent interest in a mine that once yielded millions in gold. He cited several other Park County locations that have potentially rich reserves of copper, molybdenum and gold.

What are the chances?

– As to the possibility of serious commercial mining in Park County, the jury is still out. A lot depends on the future value of metals and minerals still lying in abundance in the mountains of Park County and even more on the attitudes of county officials and of residents of this county where mining was once king.

” Linda Balough

Did you know?

– Until recently, the Sweet Home Mine, source of the state mineral rhodochrosite, operated within a quarter mile of the town’s water supply and maintained an excellent relationship with the town officials as well as the residents until it closed last year. Currently, a gravel and placer gold mine operates across the river from Alma with full support of the town.

” Linda Balough