National Parks Conservation Association Supports Closure of Dangerous Mine in Death Valley National Park

 
PRESS RELEASE
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date:   September 11, 2008
Contact:   Mke Cipra, NPCA, 760.366.7785, 760.799.5911 cell
Lindsay Bartsh, NPCA, 415.989.9921 x22


National Parks Conservation Association Supports Closure of Dangerous Mine in Death Valley National Park

Group calls for greater funding, legislation to clean up mines in national parks

Barstow, Calif. - The nation’s leading voice for the national parks, the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) today voiced support for the National Park Service’s closure of the Keane Wonder Mine, an unsafe, abandoned mine in Death Valley National Park, and called for greater federal funding and passage of pending legislation to address abandoned mines in other parks.

"Safety of visitors to our national parks needs to be a priority," said Mike Cipra, California desert program manager. "Death Valley National Park is in desperate need of funding to fulfill its mission of ensuring the safety of visitors while allowing us all to experience our shared cultural history in areas like Keane Wonder Mine."

Death Valley National Park contains an estimated 10,000 to 50,000 mine features, the highest number in the National Park System. Of these, it is estimated that 2,000 pose a high safety hazard -- one third (33%) of the total hazardous mines within the entire National Park Service that require safety closures. However, Death Valley received no federal funding this year to clean up and ensure that mines within the park are safe.

The Park Service’s concerns are echoed by a July report issued by the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior concluding that current funding for the Park Service’s abandoned mines program is inadequate to address hazards posed by mines, including deadly gases, asphyxiation, collapsing walls, explosive and toxic chemicals, and rotting structures. According to the Inspector General report, dedicated federal funding for addressing abandoned mines in national parks has been inconsistent, ranging from approximately $650,000 in fiscal year 2001 to $121,000 in fiscal year 2003.

In March, Senator Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced legislation that would reform the 1872 Mining Law by establishing an Abandoned Mine Clean Up Fund, with royalty payments and increased maintenance fees from mining companies intended to make mines safe. The bill would also require the creation of an inventory of abandoned mines on all federal, state, tribal, local, and private land.

Deep shafts and other mine entrances are often unstable, and hazardous waste from mineral extraction is present at many sites. Safety measures such as installing gates protects visitors and leaves the mines accessible to wildlife like bats and owls that roost within them. However, without adequate funding, the Park Service cannot perform these important repairs.

"Part of Death Valley National Parks’s mission is to protect and preserve the unique mining history of the California Desert. But because of budget constraints, the park is unable to fulfill this mission," continued Cipra. "Senator Feinstein’s call to action must be heeded, and we urge swift passage of this legislation."

The Keane Wonder Mine operated at the turn of the 20th century and was one of the two largest gold producing mines in the Death Valley region. The mine produced the majority of its ore between 1907-1911, and closed for good in 1942. The mine was purchased by the Park Service in the 1970s and became a popular site for historical education.

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