The Bureau of Land Management has acquired 285 acres of patented mining claims around Silverton as settlement in a lawsuit against a company that once operated the Mayflower Mill there.
The agreement with Standard Metals Corp. consolidates BLM holdings in the Alpine Triangle and allows the agency to better protect cultural resources, wildlife habitat and viewsheds.
Forty patented mining claims in San Juan, Ouray and Hinsdale counties were transferred to the BLM by Standard Metals Corp. as partial payment for recovery of costs in connection with the release or threatened release toxic substances in three states.
Specifically, six sites in San Juan County and one each in Gunnison County, Alaska and Arizona were listed as vulnerable.
Brad Dodd, associate manager of the BLM Tres Rios field office, said the settlement recovered damages for the loss of natural resources. He said damage was caused by contamination from mill tailings and mine drainage.
The mining claims are partial settlement of the claims for environmental damage, Dodd said.
The properties lie north of Silverton at 11,000 to 13,000 feet elevation and provide habitat for Canada lynx, boreal toad, northern goshawk and the Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly. The area also is a favorite with hikers, campers and off-road vehicle enthusiasts.
Standard Metals Corp. at one time operated the Mayflower Mill, the last and most advanced ore mill to be built in the San Juan Mountains. The mill, which ran from 1930 to 1991 with 12 years of down time produced 1.9 million ounces of gold, 30 million ounces of silver and 1 millions tons of base metals.
The Mayflower Mill is now a National Historic Landmark open to public to see first-hand how mining was done in the old days.
The U.S. Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency worked out the agreement with Standard Metals.
Each of the 40 parcels, which ranged in size 1.5 to 10.5 acres, was evaluated for environmental issues to ensure no future liability for the BLM, Dodd said.
The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety took measures such as closing mine entrances and shafts, and securing tailing piles to reduce hazards.
The sites are now in public ownership, Dodd said. We have the ability to interpret the sites, conduct scientific research and offer opportunities to visit.