Rescue Highlights Dangers, and Possibilities, at Old Mining Sites – by Karen Zraick (New York Times – December 20, 2018)

The rescue of three people from a shut-down coal mine in West Virginia last week focused new attention on the hundreds of thousands of inactive or abandoned mines across the country, which can pose major environmental and safety risks.

Some sites, like the Rock House Powellton Mine in Clear Creek, W.Va., where the rescue took place, are simply inactive, meaning the owners could restart operations. Others, particularly in the West, have been abandoned for decades, posing big challenges to government agencies and private entities that seek to clean up or redevelop the sites.

But some have found creative uses for old mining sites, taking advantage of their expansive size, unparalleled acoustics and other unique characteristics. Here’s a look at the problem, and some of the most intriguing solutions.

Why are former mines so hazardous?

Government officials have long pleaded with residents to stay out of mines, warning that hazards are not always immediately apparent to trespassers. Water-filled quarries may hide old machinery or rock ledges. Vertical shafts hundreds of feet deep may be hidden by overgrown vegetation. And soil and water could be contaminated if proper environmental remediation was not completed.

A not-so-subtle publicity campaign by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is titled “Stay Out – Stay Alive.” The campaign ramps up its announcements during the summer, when residents tend to venture out to explore former mine sites. Each year, dozens of people — often teenagers and young adults — are killed or injured during such adventures, the office warns.

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