Uncertain Future for the Pine Creek Mine

With county government calling for demolition of the Pine Creek Mine, others see a slice of local and national history that needs to be preserved.

At the end of the Pine Creek road, above Rovana, sits the now quiet Pine Creek Tungsten mine. Before operations shut down in 1990 the mines of Pine Creek produced more tungsten, used to harden steel, than any other mine in the United States.

Like mines elsewhere, the mine operator is required to re-claim the land after the mine shuts down. Currently the reclamation plan for the Pine Creek mine calls for demolishing the old tungsten mill and rock crushing facility. Doug Hicks, general manager of the mine wants to preserve the old buildings for their historic value and offer tours. Hicks also says that since tungsten has military uses, there is also a national security reason to preserve the mine.

Hicks says that the plan is to get mine tours going and get the mine registered as an historic place.

Inyo Planning Director Pat Cecil says that the county’s intent is to get the site cleaned up as required by the reclamation plan. The work should have been done years ago, he says. Cecil also says that in order to have public tours of the mine the buildings would have to be safe for people to walk through. He expressed concerns about asbestos.

Doug Hicks explained that all of the hazardous materials were removed in the 90s.

The problem appears to be that the law that requires the mine operator to reclaim the land and tear down the buildings is at odds with the plan to register the mine as an historic landmark. Tear down the mill and the towering rock crushing facility and you lose over half of the tour.

If Hicks can get the mine registered as an historic site and offer tours, there would be a lot for the visitor to see. At the top of the Mill site, the diesel powered ore tram still sits in its tunnel ready take people into the heart of the mountain. 2 miles of track lead to where the mine is now plugged off. From there the miners dug shafts and hollow areas thousands of feet upward to find the ore. Back when the mine was in operation, it could take hours for a miner to commute from the entrance of the mine to his work site far back in the mine.

Old mine cars and locomotives sit idle on their tracks in front of the machine where the ore cars were flipped over to dump loads into the crusher.

The old locker room, where the miners would change out of their wet clothes after a day underground sits empty now, but relics remain.

The steel guts of the mill, dark and damp now look ready to fire up any time. The old Union Carbide fire truck, its red paint a bit faded, actually still runs.

There is a planning commission meeting on December 5th to discuss the fate of the Pine Creek Mine. Doug Hicks is looking for people to help support efforts to preserve the Pine Creek Mine at that meeting.

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