New Abandoned Mine Lands Inventory by CDOC

SACRAMETO, 9 September 2009 – Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman recently ordered the release of a newly compiled inventory of abandoned mine properties owned by the State of California.  In releasing the report Secretary Chrisman directed the Office of Mine Reclamation of the California Department of Conservation to take the lead in prioritizing and coordinating abandoned mine remediation efforts on  the inventoried properties.

“The Abandoned Mine Lands Unit has completed an inventory of abandoned mine lands on State-owned properties. This process, which began in 2007, is consistent with one of the recommendations in Sierra Fund’s Mining’s Toxic Legacy report, which called for a complete inventory of state lands impacted by mining toxins, including parks, wildlife refuges, reservoirs, and other  properties,” notes Cy Oggins, Manager, Abandoned Mine Lands Unit (AMLU) Office of Mine Reclamation of the California Department of Conservation.  Cy Oggins served on The Sierra Fund’s Agency Science and Policy Advisory Panel as part of TSF’s Mining Initiative. 

According to the report, from 2007 to 2008, AMLU staff inventoried 341 abandoned mine sites on State owned lands.  The inventory reviewed data from 110 State-owned abandoned mine sites and features identified before 2007, as well as newly identified potential sites and features on State lands.  They also visited and collected data at not-yet-inventoried sites, including recording Global Positioning System (GPS) positions of each mine feature and any physical or chemical hazards associated with historic mining on the sites.  Finally, they identified sites for potential future action based on onsite observations, sampling, and/or environmental assessment.

Of 341 sites inventoried, AMLU staff identified 15 sites to sample for potential contaminants. Several State-owned abandoned mine sites contained constituents that exceeded Human Health Screening Criteria (HHSC), or had potential water quality impacts.  They found elevated levels of arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, copper, zinc, and antimony in soils and sediment at some sites.

Of the 341 sites evaluated (including the 15 sites above), the report calls for further evaluation of 10 sites in coordination with applicable land-owning and regulatory agencies. It also calls on the AMLU and State land-owning agencies to continue to remediate any high priority physical hazards present on State lands. Physical hazards include unstable adits and shafts, oxygen-depleted or poisonous gases, old explosives, and dangerous wildlife.

Further, the report calls on state agencies to evaluate new land purchases and transfers for the presence of abandoned mines before completing the transactions. Enhanced coordination to address hazards on public lands is occurring (e.g., through meetings of the DOC’s Abandoned Mine Lands Forum, the California Abandoned Mine Lands Agency Group, and the Desert Managers Group) and will likely require continued or new partnerships between State and federal landowning and regulatory agencies.

Since 2006, the AMLU has provided funding to remediate abandoned mines from a dedicated fee collected on gold and silver production.  Most recently they completed a remediation of the silver mines at Bodie State Historic Park on the east side of the Sierra.

“We are very pleased that this inventory has been completed.  This important piece of work will help the state make strategic investments in cleaning up abandoned mines, avoid acquiring future toxic mining assets, and increase their capacity to work with other land managers such as the US Forest Service to address the long-delayed job of cleaning up the abandoned mines that are California’s oldest environmental disaster,” notes Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin of The Sierra Fund.

If you would like an e-copy of this report, please contact The Sierra Fund: