Friday, June 28, 2013

Ute Ulay Mine Reclamation

6/6/2013Colorado Art Ranch, Executive Director, Grant Pound.
At the Ute Ulay Silver Mine, Lake City, Co.

BY Ryan Mudgett

Before the gold and silver discoveries in 1860’s and the rush in the 1880’s, mountain landscapes had minimal threat to them and flourished in a most natural state. Many hard rock discoveries brought a diverse array of people into some of the most remote yet breathtaking landscapes which normally wouldn't be inhabited. 

Now outdoorsy folk spend countless weekends in towns like Lake City CO, hiking 14ers, fly fishing, backcountry skiing, or prospecting mining history from the locals in still standing false front saloons. The mining legacy in Lake City left an exuberant past of mixed heritage including folklore, exploration, and unfortunately an environmental concern teetering on the edge of catastrophe. 

Three miles west of Lake City, the Ute Ulay mill site still stands respectfully along the tourist 4x4 favorite, The Alpine Loop Scenic Byway. Adjacent to the site is the city’s water supply, Henson Creek, nestled in some of the most stunning glaciated landscapes in the state.   The mill was hydroelectrically powered by Henson Creek until the Hidden Treasure dam just below the Ute Ulay burst in 1973, causing a metallic soup to wash downstream resulting in a complete kill of all macro invertebrates and fish 14 miles downstream. After this cataclysm, the people of Lake City became more environmentally aware of how these mines can impact their livelihood. Only to remind them of this fact in the winter of 2011 Grant Pound, Executive Director of Colorado Art Ranch stumbled upon an avalanche which plugged up Henson Creek just above the mill site.  The avalanche blocked the river creating an ice dam which held back water up stream 35ft deep.  Talk about an environmental disaster waiting to happen, and an eye widening moment for the town of Lake City. This avalanche became an immediate reminder of the Mill Dam failure that happened in 1973. Frightened at what this could do to the town and environment, city officials scurried to plan on what to do with the people of Lake City, and contacted specialist for advice so another flooding event didn't happen again. At risk the already super saturated tailing ponds, (mine waste) sat uneasily below the ice wall as people thought of using TNT to deal with the avalanche that threatened Lake City. Thankfully the town’s water supply elegantly bored a hole through the ice mass, and slowly leaked 35 feet of water that was backed up into a normal flow and the town, macro invertebrates, and fish were at ease. This taught the city that you cannot always plan for uncertainties, and showed everyone personally what potentially could have happened.This type of uncertainty is exactly what got the EPA’s attention and resulted in an emergency response remediation of the site that started on June 5th, 2013. The EPA hopes to be finished with remediation securing mine tailings by the end of summer 2013.

On June 6th, 2013 Lake City held the ceremony “Diggin’ In at the Ute Ulay”.  The Diggin’ ceremony brought a diverse group of people together who were involved with the remediation and the future of the Ute Ulay mine site. After enjoying local coffee and donuts, Hinsdale County Commissioner Stan Whinnery gave a speech addressing the importance of the remedial action by the EPA, and the unique partnerships of local government, private (publically-held) mining company, non-profit organizations, and state and federal agencies, that worked together to secure the future of the mine and watershed. The EPA’s emergency response team became involved just in time when LKA Gold Incorporated donated the historic Ute-Ulay Town & Mill Sites to the County of Hinsdale. By transferring ownership of the 285 acre Ute Ulay allowed the county and town of Lake City to begin immediate restoration on Ute Ulay mining camps and initiated the EPA’s cleanup process involving the stabilization of the tailings ponds that are an extreme hazard to Henson Creek.
This type of complex remedial action  started with envisioning what the future uses for the Ute Ulay Mine and Town site could be, when Grant Pound and DIRT's Executive Director, Kristie Borchers began discussing how art and mining could possibly mesh about 5 years ago. In 2011 Colorado Art Ranch created a transdisciplinary collaboration that included 7 artists and 7 scientists that were selected for the Lake City Artposium & Artist Residency. These artists and scientists not only inspired the community of Lake City but gave them a sense of ownership for the future of the Ute Ulay mine. Since the Hardrock Revision, it seems the mine that made Lake City is on the road to recovery, and things are really moving along in a holistic manner. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Another Beginning...

The Hardrock Revision blog now contains all the elements of the vision that we came up with during our month-long residency. The Colorado Art Ranch, and the team of artists and scientists have returned to our homes - leaving us with memories of a beautiful place, interesting people, fun, and hard work.

The Mill in February

But the influence of this project does not end here. I (Becky) am back here in Lake City; having got some funding from MIRIAD, I am in the process of developing a masterplan for the Ute Ulay. This project is the next step towards making development at the Ute Ulay a reality, and would never have been conceived without the Hardrock Revision. So many, many thanks to Colorado Art Ranch, all the other residents and participants, organisations, community members here in Lake City, and everyone who supported the Hardrock Revision in so many ways.

Details of the next project are on the new blog, so take a look and see what is happening next...

Monday, February 6, 2012

Our Vision #25: Pika Research

Research being done in the Great Basin of California and Nevada indicates that mine tailings are an ideal environment for pikas, sustaining these small creatures when other habitats at similar altitudes and climates cannot.  The opportunity to study this phenomenon in a controlled environment could be a valuable function for the piles of waste rock at the Ute Ulay and an opportunity to better understand an indicator species.  
The World's Largest Pika

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Our Vision #24: Workshops

The blacksmith’s shop and three attached sheds on the mill site will be designated as multi-functional workshop spaces. These workshops could support artist residencies or local artist commissions, and could serve as breakout educational spaces for school groups, youth groups, summer camps, and temporary research facilities for visiting university programs. Refitted to include workshop benches, lighting, and metal-working equipment, the workshop would be spacious and adaptable to a variety of uses.
blacksmith and other sheds - then and now

Friday, February 3, 2012

Our Vision #23: Micro-hydro

About a hundred years ago, the Ute Ulay mining operations began to generate electricity by hydropower. Given the Hardrock Revision’s focus on sustainability, the team recommends installing a modern hydropower system. 
old dam and new micro-hydropower
Used on many farms,  ranches, and homes in remote locations, micro-hydropower systems can generate up to 100 kilowatts of electricity. Current systems respond to varying water flow rates and seasonal changes to ensure reliable power. For the Ute Ulay, a sensitive eye for history and innovation will be needed to implement a micro-hydropower system that compliments the historical precedent.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Our Vision #22: Ice Rink and Expanded Ice Climbing

n - ice!
There are several opportunities for winter recreation on the site of the Ute Ulay.  Capitalizing on the ice climb that is already in use just below the dam on Henson Creek could make it a site of particular interest to experienced climbers.  Another possibility is the installation of a low maintenance ice-skating rink in the tailings pond after remediation.  Winter sports could help to expand the season of the hostel, drawing both locals and non-locals alike.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Our Vision #21: Old Mill Ruins / Gathering Space

The site of the original mill (no longer present) could become an outdoor gathering space, with the foundation creating natural walls around the concrete platform.  A screen could be hung from the hydropower structure, facilitating films, talks, and other events.  
I think they're watching 'Lucky Texan'

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Our Vision #20: Tailings Pile

The largest mine tailings pile at the Ute-Ulay mill site has been estimated at 4,000 cubic yards in volume. Nearly a century ago, the pile was considerably larger. The pile may contain metals and other poisons that are lifting into the air, creating dust, and entering storm-water runoff. Sealing the tailings is the only practical way to reduce leaching and the threat of respiratory illness in visitors. We suggest using a powerful polymer emulsion that will retain the form of the pile. The sealant will bond the surface dust and aggregate together and "cement" it to the base to create a hard, dust-free, water-resistant, and resilient surface. This remediation technique will essentially freeze the tailings pile in time, establishing a memorial-like feature, a tribute to the work that took place at the site.
A monument to hard work

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Our Vision #19: Underground Passage

a slide into the river through the unknown underground?
Though the mountains appear to be solid, miners have carved out veins of metals, leaving voids deep in the earth. Because the mines, and the creek—far below the level of the mine site—are inaccessible, a new route to reach the creek could be carved through the hillside in the spirit of the mine.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Our Vision #18: Audio Tours

Visitors to the Ute Ulay site may have the choice of various audio tours featuring the voices and knowledge of local residents. 
Julia enjoying an audio tour
For example, one could choose to take the poetry audio tour and listen to regional poets reading work evocative of the landscape or mining.  Someone else might choose the ghost tour, and listen to the voice of local miner George Hurd or historian Grant Houston telling stories about the mine and Lake City.  Yet another visitor might choose to listen to the voice of Matt Ingram describe what it was like to work at the mill.