State closes 43 exposed mine shafts near Mammoth

Salvador Rodriguez//November 25, 2009

State closes 43 exposed mine shafts near Mammoth

Salvador Rodriguez//November 25, 2009

The Mine Inspector’s Office sealed 43 mine openings during an operation from Nov. 4 until Nov. 11 that was intended to make the area surrounding the Pearl Mine safer for all-terrain vehicles, hikers and horses.

“There were a lot of exposed shafts, some nasty looking tunnels. And there is an awful lot of recreational traffic back in there,” abandoned mine supervisor Jerry Tyra said. “You get back in there, you could fall into one of these things and nobody could find you for a month.”

By using waste rock that’d been removed from the site to fill the openings, Deputy Director Laurie Swartzbaugh said the office was able to perform the closures rather than hire a contractor. Swartzbaugh said the project cost approximately $5,000. The office estimated the savings at about $12,000.

“Sometimes we have to bring infill, sometimes we don’t,” she said. “This particular project we didn’t have to.”

Tyra said mining began at the site in 1919. The Pearl Mine near Mammoth, which was a quarter-mile long and 300 feet wide, was mined for silver, lead, copper oxide and copper sulfide.

“It looked like a tunnel system when it was started, and then over the years, parts of it had caved in,” he said.

Swartzbaugh said Mine Inspector’s Office initially intended to close 26 openings. But after beginning work, workers found 17 additional openings and were able to close them as well.

Tyra said office typically closes about three to six openings per site. Many times contractors are hired to perform the closures, which Tyra said cuts into the office’s budget.

“We went in there and did it ourselves this time we saved the state a lot of money,” he said. “We had the analysis all done on (the mine openings,) we had the whole paperwork done on them. And this was a chance to show the state what we can do. It was enough of a hazard that they needed to be closed anyhow.”

Recreational traffic near Pearl Mine should be safe now, Tyra said.

“You could build a house on top of anything that we filled up there,” he said.

Swartzbaugh said the office plans to seal more dangerous mine shafts.

“As long as we feel that we have the expertise and the experience and we know that we can perform the project, we plan on self-performing a lot more so we can save the taxpayers money to close many more mines,” she said.

The Mine Inspector’s Office, though, has not been able to proceed with the closing of at least two other abandoned mines where people have died during the past few years because litigation has prevented the office from taking action, Swartzbaugh said.

Swartzbaugh said the Mine Inspector’s Office tried to go through the Attorney General’s office last September to proceed with the closing of a mine shaft in Chloride where a 13-year-old girl died in 2007 as well as a mine opening in Cave Creek where a 19-year-old man died in January of last year.

Swartzbaugh said the Attorney General’s Office recommended refraining from attempting to close the mines until the office obtains permission from the landowner or the courts.