State Begins Project to Safeguard Open Mines in West End
by Gus Jarvis
Dec 02, 2012 | 1320 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print

WESTERN SAN JUANS – After a resident recently discovered a dangerous mine opening on his property, the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining & Safety began developing a new project to safeguard and close coal mine openings in the Norwood, Naturita and Nucla area.

Anyone in that area who knows of a mine opening is urged to contact the state agency so any and all openings can be closed off in a safe manner.

Reclamation & Mining Environmental Protection Specialist Camille Price said the federal agency did a sweep of dangerous mine openings in the area in 1986 and a number of openings were closed for safety reasons. Recently, though, a resident contacted the agency with concerns that another mine opening had been found. In response to that, Price said the agency worked to close the opening, and if there are others, it will close them as well.

“I think the first sweep took care of a lot of mines that were known,” Price said in an interview on Tuesday. “In this instance, the opening the land owner contacted us about is a diagonal opening at a 45 degree angle. It’s in a sagebrush flat and there is no tailings pile, no nothing to identify it being there. If you walk by it you will see it [but] somehow it got missed. If there is one, there will likely be more.”

Price said open mines pose many hazards. Unstable rock can fall onto and injure someone, vertical openings may be present and someone could fall into them, lethal mine gases may exist and can overcome a person, and open mines can harbor wildlife such as bears, wildcats, bats, rodents and insects. Mines can be closed and safeguarded by maintaining secure access (if requested by the landowner) or by backfilling the mine with rock and dirt, the construction of a rock wall, and the fabrication of metal grates.

Construction on the mine safety closure project is expected to begin in 2014 and will be paid for by the state, through funding made available by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining.

Price said the state will conduct wildlife and archaeological surveys to make sure endangered species are not impaired, and that historic artifacts are preserved. If bats are found roosting or hibernating in an open mine, a closure equipped with bat-friendly access will be constructed.

A similar project will begin next spring, Price said, to clean up a coal waste dump outside of Norwood as well as to close up a mine feature below the cemetery in Nucla.

Anyone with a mine opening on his or her property who would like the state agency to safeguard it should contact Price by phone at 970/708-7188 or email

Twitter: @gusgusj

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