Safety Risk, Budget Keeps Empire Mine Underground Tour Closed

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Volunteers at the Empire Mine State Historic Park are still reeling from a decision by the state park system to kill an underground tour project, which had been in the works for 25 years.

The State Parks bought into a proposal to take visitors in mine cars into a 900 foot horizontal shaft as part of a tour of the historic hard rock mine.  Locals hoped that it would be a tourism boost for the region but a few months ago, state park officials decided that steel support beams were incorrectly installed when construction began in 2004 and that corrosion posed a safety risk.

They also say future maintenance costs would be too steep and said it would no longer continue with the project.

“They spend $3.4 to $4.5 million on it and now they they say they can’t maintain it. It’s sad,” said Larry Skinner, president of the the volunteer association, a key proponent of the project.

But the superintendent of the park sector Matthew Green says there are plenty of projects at the 856 acre site that could use additional funds and that a businesses decision had to be made based on construction and maintenance priorities.  He said the underground tours would never pay of itself.

But local officials say the money spent so far would disappear into a hole in the ground unless the project were completed and at least have a chance of earning money for local businesses and the state.

Backers of the project hope down the road the political and economic climate might change so the project can be revived.

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