BLANDING, Utah — Owning a gold mine doesn't always make a person rich; in fact, water draining out of it can potentially harm nearby drinking water and cost the thousands of dollars to remedy, according to a report from the Salt Lake Tribune.
That's the lesson Charles Pipkin of Goshen, Utah learned when he reopened a 100 year-old gold mine shaft known as the Marvin Tunnel that his great-grandfather had mined in the early 1900's.
He started excavating it in 2019, but without any of the required permits, bonds, or reclamation plans needed by the state. Bright red water ran out of the mine during the excavation toward a creek supplying water to nearby Blanding.
Those who saw the water pouring out of the mine thought of nearly catastrophic Gold King Mine Spill in 2015, in which millions of gallons of bright red water polluted the Animas and San Juan Rivers, causing years of litigation.
Pipkin says he put in a plywood door last summer, and thought once he was finished with that, the water would run clear again. He adds that he has familiy and friends in Blanding, so would not want to hurt their water supply.
But because of the drainage's potential to cause threats, the U.S. Forest Service and the Utah Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining stepped in to close the mine after its first inspection and has built a dam and gate to prevent any further contamination.
According to the Tribune's report, "records on file with the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining state that Pipkin brought in heavy equipment to clear the partially caved-in entrance to Marvin Tunnel in 2020, an action that requires permitting. Material from the mine was dumped across the road and into a perennial stream, which leads to Johnson Creek."
While the thrill of a potential gold rush from an old mine may inspire others to start prospecting, it's important to remember that permits and bonds are required for a reason. Gold mines may turn up empty, but the damage they cause can last for decades.
State officials say that Pipkin has yet to pay his assessed fines, far less than the cost of its closure.