Saturday, August 13, 2011
Thursday, August 11, 2011
(Image courtesy of Social Innovation Solutions)
In a recent trip to Silverton Colorado, the Hard Rock Revision Team presented their initial ‘sketch’ vision for the Ute Ulay mine to a crowd at the Mountain Studies Institute. Overall the presentation went well, minus the lack of visual information we had yet to generate to illustrate the vision. What is transpiring is a menu of options and ideas that extend the boundaries of possibility for the Ute Ulay mine.
The innovative nature of many of the ideas is a direct response to one of the goals the team established – not to feel bored with the ideas we are pursuing. Whereby most of the community feedback was centered around preserving buildings, or having the opportunity to stay on the site, our preliminary vision did not extend well beyond these actions. During a picnic with Stan Whinnery, Hinsdale the County Commissioner, we asked him what his ideal vision was for the site. Commissioner Winnery basically summed up what we had come up with over the past 3 weeks in a short 2 minute pitch. It was at this moment that I thought (assumably with others), “what have we done for the past 3 weeks?” This realization jumpstarted the ideation process as we all tapped into our last reserves for the final week.
The results speak for themselves. Ideas evolved and turned into wonderful examples of creativity and innovation, balancing preservation and deep rooted heritage.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
We took the Alpine Loop yesterday over to Silverton to tour the Old 100 Mine and Mayflower Mill, as well as give a talk about our project at the Mountain Studies Institute.
First we stopped at Animus Forks, an old mining ghost town that's been fixed up marginally and left to explore. Then, we went deep into the Old 100 Mine in little carts and felt the cold and hardrock damp. At the Mill, we admired their cross-valley tramway and pressed buttons.
The trip was great in order to see the things that have already been done on the Alpine Loop with mine sites, and the Ute Ulay, we hope, will reflect some of the same themes while being quite different.
Our talk was well-received in Silverton by an interesting group of folks. There's a lot of enthusiasm about creative community re-purposing of old mine structures over there!
Finally, we made a moonlit pilgrimage to the Christ of the Mines shrine that looks down over Silverton, keeping miners safe.
Monday, August 8, 2011
It was a 7.6-mile roundtrip hike from the wastewater treatment facility in Lake City (oooh, bubbling wastewater) up to Waterdog, through aspen groves and meadows of wildflowers. And just for the record, yes, we did swim in the lake, too--though not without some trepidation concerning alpine gators and tentacled aliens lurking in the weedy waters...
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Friday, August 5, 2011
Alpine pennycress (Thlaspi caerulescens) is a plant that is usually thought of as a wild flower or a weed. It’s a member of the brassica family that grows in western Colorado, Wyoming and up to Montana. It’s often found at high elevations in the Rockies as well as in the Alps and the Pyrenees, among other places.
In an earlier post about phyto or green remediation, I wrote about the possibility of using plants to draw heavy metals out of contaminated soil. Alpine pennycress is a particularly promising plant for remediation because it can tolerate high amounts of cadmium, lead, and zinc. It has also been shown to draw cadmium and zinc out of the soil and can be used to mitigate erosion on lead contaminated soil.
We’ve found alpine pennycress growing on the site of the Ute Ulay. It’s small and scrubby but it’s there. This seems to be a promising sign, both for the soil and for the possibility of phytoremediation.
And there’s more: alpine pennycress’s cousin field pennycress is being developed in the US as a source of biodiesel. Pennycress is not useful as livestock feed, though its leaves and seeds are a good source of oil, and it’s production would not compete with land for food production because it is used as a winter cover crop.
As far as we can tell, alpine pennycress is not being tested for bio-fuel possibilities, perhaps because it has fewer leaves and smaller seeds and doesn’t grow in the mid-west, where most of the field pennycress research is going on. But what if it was useful for bio-fuel on a small scale? We could use the plants for soil remediation and then process them as bio-diesel to run the Buckeye Engine.* An almost perfect loop!
*This plan is not scientifically verifiable.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Three groups separated to discuss and drill down into the three subjects in the vision statement: Habitation, education and environment. The small groups moved quickly and effectively to hash out the specifics of each subject. I participated in the habitation group, and we developed both a map and phased diagram to describe how habitation would take place on the site. In concert with the education and environment group, the ideas developed resembled a series of building blocks. Miraculously, every set of blocks seemed to fit together with another set.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Phytoremediation or green remediation refers to the use of plants to treat environmental problems. It does not require excavation or removal of contaminated soil and is very low impact environmentally.
Phytoremediation is based around the use of hyperaccumulators. These plants draw heavy metals and other toxic materials out of the soil through their roots and into their leaves. The plants are then harvested and removed from the site, taking the metals with them. In some cases, valuable materials which are toxic in soil at high concentrations, like zinc, can be extracted from the plants and sold at the going rate. This process is called phytomining.
In addition to its environmental benefits, phytoremediation is extremely cost effective. In other words, it's cheap. For each acre of contaminated soil, it’s estimated phytoremediation will cost $250 to $1000. Traditional remediation runs around $1 million dollars an acre.
So why is this not a more common practice? For one thing, not all metals can be treated through phytoremediation. Lead, for example, which is a problem on the town site of the Ute Ulay, cannot be treated this way as far as science knows (although plants can be used as a sort of barrier to trap lead in by preventing erosion). Another reason may be that phytoremediation is an ongoing process and can take several growing seasons to bring soil toxins down to an acceptable level. Traditional remediation is generally a once and done deal that involves a combination of capping and relocating contaminated soil. But to compare, the tailings piles from the Ute Ulay (adjacent to the site on public land) remediated by the Bureau of Land Management a few years ago cost about $1 million dollars. It took ten years and a lot of work to raise that much money. If it had taken ten years to remediate the land using plants, the results might have been similar for a markedly smaller amount of money.
There are other considerations with phytoremediation including making sure that the metal-laden plants are not going to be problematic for wildlife (fences can do wonders in this department) and that respiration doesn't turn a ground problem into an air problem. Additionally, amendments of some kind must generally be added to disturbed soil to make it suitable for new plant life. At least one promising experiment done using pulp from paper plants has shown that what is normally an industrial waste can become a food source for bioremediating plants.
Artist Mel Chin, working with scientists like Rufus Chaney currently of the USDA, brought broader attention to this process through his piece Revival Field (1990-present) and while scientists continue to experiment with it, phytoremediation is a nascent technology in many ways.
Stay tuned for another blog post about alpine pennycress, a Rocky Mountain weed and hyperaccumulator extraordinaire.
We are developing a model of the Ute Ulay mine site which will help us with our ideation process and assist with the communication of our ideas at the Artposium on August 13th. In keeping with one of our priorities: Sustainability, the model is constructed from recycled materials, cardboard boxes, wood, metal and other bits and pieces of interesting scrap from the mine site itself. The model is beginning to take on some character, a combination of low tech D.I.Y and model making precision.
The arduous process of making the contours of the site combined with the joys of 3 functioning glue guns helps us to imagine what might be possible for the future reuses of the buildings and environs.
Then, on a stormy morning, we drove up to Engineer Pass for Sheep Day! We saw sheep, heard their bells, watched their guard dogs chase a pika, and ate some extremely delicious lamb stew. Luckily, we rushed back to Lake City just in time to feed carrots to burros. Tomorrow, we dig into a full day of work, together, and in smaller groups, fleshing out our ideas for the mine site.