Amazing how disasters change people’s ambivalence toward mines.

According to this High Country News story, “Silverton’s Gold King reckoning,” the Colorado mining town of Silverton has regretted its original choice to oppose federal mine clean-up after the ancient mine had already created a pollution problem.

When acid mine waste flooded the Animas River last year, “Most of the vitriol was directed at the EPA and its careless actions on Aug. 5. But others blamed a federal mining law that hasn’t been updated in 150 years. In Durango, though, most of the ire was directed at its upstream neighbor, Silverton, which had long resisted federal efforts to use the Superfund to clean up the hundreds of now-abandoned mines that gave birth to the town and sustained it for decades.
Like a cathartic purge, the Gold King disaster swept most of that resistance away. ”

Also, “Almost 400 of the nearly 5,400 mineshafts, adits, tunnels, waste dumps and prospects in the upper Animas watershed had some impact on water quality. About 60 were particularly nasty, together depositing more than 516,000 pounds of aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron and zinc into the watershed each year.”

Montanans, of all people, should pay heed. Mine shafts, like those proposed by Tintina Resources, plunge through the water table, making contamination highly likely. Twenty years in the future, we don’t want the headline on a similar story  to read: “White Sulphur Springs’ Black Butte reckoning.”

Instead of waiting until after accidents occur, it’s much easier to do the right things ahead of time. If we must have mines, they should have to meet facility safety requirements, allow regular monitoring and put up sufficient funds ahead of time to clean up the mess they create. But mining companies always fight such common-sense requirements, and nearby communities make the mistake of backing the resistance. These situations always end up pitting one community against another.