JOSH STEPHENSON/Durango Herald
An early-day coal mine west of Durango, closed since 1926, no longer is leaking toxic metals but badly needs erosion control.
State Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety officials on Thursday visited the site north of Twin Buttes off U.S. Highway 160 with seven potential bidders interested in restoring and revegetating 5 acres of steep hillside.
The target is the Boston Mine, also known as Perin’s Peak No. 1, which operated from 1901 to 1926. The site produced more than 1 million tons of coal and left behind about 4,000 cubic yards of coal waste.
Production was robust enough that Boston Coal and Fuel Co. established Perins, a town that in its heyday boasted a school, a boarding house and 200 inhabitants.
Only sections of the railroad grade leading to the community and remnants of building foundations remain.
The mine is within the Perins Peak Wildlife Area, which comprises 12,000 acres of Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Bureau of Land Management holdings.
The area is closed to the public Nov. 15 to July 15 as a winter haven for deer, elk, turkeys and snoozing black bears and in the spring for nesting peregrine falcons. The western half opens April 1 because no peregrines nest there.
“As Durango develops and outlying subdivisions appear, the area is all the more valuable for wildlife,” said Patt Dorsey, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Durango.
Dorsey didn’t accompany the visitors.
“We bought the land in chunks over the years with federal money specifically for wildlife habitat,” Dorsey said. “People can still do a lot – hike, hunt or bird-watch – in the area as long as it doesn’t interfere with wildlife.”
Kirstin Brown, restoration project manager for the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, emphasized the need to respect wildlife species and the vegetation that nourishes or shelters them as she hiked the area with the contractors.
Vehicle traffic and machinery must be kept to a minimum, and the winning bidder will have only one month, from mid-July to mid-August, to complete the work, she said.
Requirements go as far as to require that vehicles be inspected to assure that no foreign material is introduced.
If Parks and Wildlife approves, helicopters could ferry material such as compost to the steep hillsides where mine tailings must be stabilized, seeded and mulched by hand, Brown said.
Even with the strict on-site job requirements and the demanding timetable, the project is doable, said Morgana Patrick from Conservation Seeding & Restoration.
The firm is headquartered in Kimberly, Idaho, with branches in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
“I’m here to get the specs,” Patrick said. “They’ll put the numbers together in the office.”
Efforts to clean up the Boston Mine site, which at one time leaked 20 gallons a minute of toxic iron, copper, manganese and zinc into Lightner Creek, aren’t new.
In 1992, grants from the Office of Surface Mining and the Bureau of Mines funded construction of wetland retention ponds to treat seepage and to assess the effectiveness of certain work.
“We stopped the leaks with the wetlands and by closing a collapsed spot that was allowing water to fill the mine workings and create seepage elsewhere,” Brown said.
No seepage is seen today, she said.
The restoration will include closing a shaft, contouring a hillside, redirecting a ditch to carry runoff to one of the old retention ponds and seeding, mulching and applying 8 inches of compost and biochar – woody material reduced to charcoal through anaerobic processing – that retains a lot of water.