Sunday, October 8, 2017

With the political will Lead, Deadwood's downturns easy to reverse

Well, it's that time of year again.

Not long after Homestake Mining Company announced its intention to close operations in Lead, we were listening to this NPR story about an ice climbing park in Ouray, Colorado, a former mining town that has remade itself by farming ice. My daughters' mother turned to me and said: "Wow, they should do that in the Open Cut."

It was if she had spoken with the Voice of God. The very next day I made an appointment and met with Bruce Breid, the general manager charged with the mine's mothballing, an aerial photo of the pit displayed on the wall behind his desk.

"What a brilliant idea, Mr. Kurtz, we have water here, here, and here," Mr. Breid said, pointing to locations at the rim near the Homestake Visitor Center. "Can you provide a legal instrument holding Homestake harmless?"

Right. There was that.

Though not a climber myself, more research led me to locals, some of whom had actually climbed the natural seeps deep in the pit while working for subcontract miners.

The horseshoe-shaped bowl directly under the Visitors Center is geologically sound, anchors for top roping easy to place. I have spoken to every Lead mayor since; the desired property is in the city limits. Barrick, the current owner has resisted any discussion of the concept. The Authority governing development of the Lab looks at me like deer in headlights.

The Open Cut contributes about 11% of the water to the mine being pumped for the Lab, the ice climbing park would add another 5000 gallons or so. If a clay liner would be applied to the floor of the pit, the resulting reservoir (yes, acidic mine runoff mostly) could be tapped for emergency fire-fighting or diverted to the treatment facility for water from Sawpit Gulch in Central City: some of that is already happening.

A couple of points: most of the Open Cut is comprised of very porous rock; filling the pit with water would only succeed in filling the emerging lab. Barrick wants the wall of the pit to "spall," ie. move loose material from the walls to the floor. Accelerating this process would serve the purpose.

There are precious few places on Earth where nearly a thousand feet of vertical ice would be this easy to access.

Ice climbing is driving the winter economies of several former mining towns like Bozeman, Montana; Durango and Ouray, Colorado; and Cody, Wyoming.

Lead should take some advice from Hill City and Hot Springs. Coordination with the Grateful Deadwood High Cannabusiness Institute could bring new life to some old towns.

Build it and some will even climb it naked.

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