Keeping old mine sites safe

Keeping old mine sites safe

IRON MOUNTAIN — The Upper Peninsula has a rich heritage of mining that dates back to prehistory, but that heritage has left the landscape dotted with pits and shafts that can pose hazards to passersby.

Years of mining activity gone by can still be seen in parts of Dickinson County. As removing ore from the ground became less economically feasible, mining companies began leaving their sites. According to Dickinson County Mine Inspector Steven Smith, while some companies properly fenced and set up funding to maintain the sites, many of the pits were left for private landowners and municipalities to maintain.

“At that time, I think they didn’t understand the overall cost of maintaining these properties in perpetuity to keep them safe,” said Smith.

Old mine sites that pose a hazard are required to be fenced and signs must be posted. Over time the fences can deteriorate, however — often due to human intervention.

“The real problem is there’s a lot of vandalism. When you come to the fence and it says no trespassing, that means no trespassing and that it’s illegal to go beyond that fence,” Smith added, “and it is a misdemeanor if you get caught going through or if you cut the fences.”

Keeping people away from the pits can help bat populations that now call them home and even potentially reduce crime in these secluded areas. Ultimately, the goal of maintaining these fences is to improve safety.

“Not only are there cliffs where people can fall off and holes that you can fall into and water you can slide into, but there’s also cliffs where rock falls from the surface,” said Smith.

While efforts are often limited by money and manpower, Smith is working with Iron Mountain to put together a plan to clear brush and repair fences on a priority list of sites within the city.

“It’s a long–term project, and I always tell them — everyone I work with — I don’t expect you to do this overnight, but I expect you to do it,” Smith added.