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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Silverton, the Gold King, mining, water, culture and identity

I finally finished my feature story for High Country News about the Gold King Mine spill. Really it's about Silverton, and about a community that was built on mining, and has struggled to forge a new, post-mining identity while also grappling with the pollution it left behind. Read the story here.

Read the story

It's a long story, but I think a pretty good read. It started out at 16,000 words, and through many drafts the able editors at HCN and I were able to hone it down to about 6,000. Left on the cutting room floor was a lot about the history of mining pollution on the Animas River and elsewhere in the West, which I think is a fascinating story in itself. For decades, battles raged between the mining towns, like Silverton, and the downstream communities, like Durango, Jefferson County on Clear Creek, and Glenwood Springs and Carbondale on the Roaring Fork. I'll be writing that up separately, either for HCN or for here or, perhaps, for a book (but you didn't hear it from me).

Check out the timeline

Also chopped out were a lot of the technical details about the Gold King and its links to the American Tunnel. These are important, so I was able to salvage them by putting them into this really exhaustive (okay, exhausting) timeline. It is by far the most comprehensive history of the Gold King Mine out there right now. It includes the origin story of the mine (located by Olaf Arvid Nelson in 1887); details about how it grew from just one claim into a profitable empire for Northeastern capitalists; how it was repeatedly hit by tragedy, from fires to fatal avalanches; and how it was revived in the late 1980s, even producing some 33,000 tons of ore and killing one miner, Donald "Donnie" Goode. It also tracks the history of drainage from the Gold King from when it was a "dry" mine back in 1986, to when it was spewing out more than 200 gallons per minute prior to the spill.