Things Are – Literally – “Opening Up” in Leadville
How To Fill An Old Gloryhole
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
While the rest of the country navigates re-opening plans, in America’s highest city a very different kind of “opening up” is making headlines.
“It was a terrifying experience,” the victim, Bryan Osif shared with Leadville Today regarding his harrowing fall into a 30’ mine shaft which opened up as he attempted to gain access to his Leadville Storage unit earlier this month. It was April 1, 2021, when a quiet Wednesday afternoon was interrupted by the buzz of social media, and flashing red lights from emergency responders at 131 East 2nd Street in Leadville. By sunset, a true-life rescue put to rest any April Fools Day suspicions as heroic headlines took centerstage, rightfully so.
“Thank you to all for the support I have received. I want to thank LLCFR (Leadville/Lake County Fire Rescue) for such a quick response and getting me home safe to my family,” Osif concluded. For readers interested in supporting Osif and his young family with expenses, a Go Fund Me page has been set up to help while he recovers from his injuries and is cleared to return to work full-time.
I Felt The Earth Move Under My Feet
“This time of year, we have a lot more water in our ground, so that will reactivate these things,” says Craig Bissonnette, Environmental Protection Specialist with the Division of Reclamation, Mining, and Safety (DRMS). He was call #2 after 911 concerning the April 1 mine shaft cave-in. And fortunately for Lake County, Bissonnette has lived right here in Leadville since 2003. Because with a mining heritage like Lake County’s the “Inactive Mine Reclamation Program,” has been anything but inactive since its inception in 1980.
First, and most importantly, if you have an emergency situation involving a mine shaft, Call 911. Human, pet and wildlife safety is most important. However, should you have an open mine shaft situation that needs to be inspected and reviewed by the proper state agency, then you can email email@example.com with the subject line: Lake County Mine Shaft. It would be helpful to include a brief summary of your property location and the open mine shaft situation.
According to Bissonnette, nearly 500 mine shafts in Lake County have been remediated since the program began in 1980. Of course, most of those are in an out-of-the-way wooded area or alongside a mountaintop. However other former gloryholes, like the Home Extension Mine which showed itself once again on April Fools Day, are lurking underground, especially in Leadville’s eastside mining district.
The Re-Opening Of Leadville
“There is a mine shaft above our house that opened up last spring and it’s absolutely terrifying. I bet it goes down 400 feet. We called the Sheriff’s office but they just put up some caution tape (which is now down). A dog or human could easily be killed by getting near the hole, which is right next to a popular walking and biking trail,” stated one eastside resident in Leadville Today.
While there are hundreds of old mine shafts and prospectors’ holes scattered through the historic eastside mining district in Leadville, most are not in high traffic areas. For the adventurer, mine openings may seem safe to explore but are dangerous and can contain unstable soil, unsafe roofs and ladders, deadly gases, not to mention dangerous explosives.
But as more and more recreationists explore Leadville’s eastside mining district with miles of groomed trails, encounters are likely to become more frequent. According to the state’s website, outdoor recreation near abandoned mines requires caution; DRMS records show that since 1955 abandoned mines have claimed 18 lives. In addition, every year pets and people are rescued from abandoned mine openings in Colorado much like the one in Leadville on April 1, 2021. So what do you do if you discover one on your property or on public land in Lake County?
SMCRA. It’s a new acronym to add to your Leadville dictionary, but this one might actually be helpful. More than 4 decades ago, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977 created two programs: one for regulating active coal mines and the second for reclaiming abandoned mine lands. These programs were established to promulgate regulations, fund state regulatory and reclamation efforts, and ensure consistency among state regulatory programs. In other words, there is money available to help “fix” an open mine shaft situation on your property. Here’s where you need to connect:
Filling in An Old Gloryhole
Colorado’s heritage is mining. It’s what led many people to the state in 1859, and was the most important economic activity for many years. And it still is to many degrees in Lake County. Unfortunately left behind are an estimated 23,000 hazardous mining features unsafeguarded, and approximately 1,300 miles of streams impacted by past mining practices across Colorado.
- The Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program is funded through the Department of the Interior by reclamation fees paid by current coal mine operations on each ton of coal mined in Colorado.
- DRMS receives, on average, $2 million each year for mine safeguarding work.
- $5,000 is the average cost for the closure of a hazardous abandoned mine feature.
- There is no other program to address past mining hazards, and minimal funding is available for environmental projects.
- Sites in Colorado encompass a wide range of historical and cultural properties. They vary from coal mining properties to precious metals, to dredges and mill sites, associated towns, campsites and outbuildings. Providing historic preservation along with safety and environmental clean-up is important to local communities.
For property owners dealing with such open mine shaft situations, there is no hard-and-fast timeline nor remedy. Bissonnette explained that the majority of features/openings take up to three years to safeguard from initial inspection. This allows time to complete the mandated requirements (cultural & biological surveys, etc..) outlined under NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) and to request grant funding to construct the closure. However, it’s good to know that emergency situations – like the Home Extension Mine – are exempt from NEPA due to the imminent safety concerns and are mitigated immediately with different funding requirements as well.
As for the Home Extension Mine remediation, here’s how the remediation crew repaired that open mine shaft:
“Basically, we stuffed 200 tons of rock into the hole, filling the shaft from the bottom up,” Bissonnette explained to LT in an exclusive interview on April 14. The one-and-a-half to 3-foot rocks help to shore up the slumping shaft walls of the Home Extension Mine. On top of that, 40 cubic yards of concrete were poured in, flowing down between the rocks, tightening up the shaft’s column underground, and forming a cap. Because there is a structure on top of the area – the storage units – extra care was taken, and an engineer hired by the property owner conducted a final inspection last week before the street will be reset with fill and road base on top. Here’s a video of the crew’s remediation efforts:
Home Extension Mine Remediation
Colorado Journalist Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, a media company located in Leadville, Colorado which publishes Leadville Today and Saguache Today. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leadville Miner’s Oral History Video
During Leadville Today’s research for this story, the following video provided by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety was discovered. It’s a great look into Leadville’s mining past with firsthand accounts from the people who worked the mines. You may see some familiar faces still living in Leadville Today. Learn and enjoy!