Gold mine eyed near Independence Pass summit, east of Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Gold mine eyed near Independence Pass summit, east of Aspen

Exploratory drilling is scheduled to begin in early July near the summit of Independence Pass on mining claims fabled to hold riches in silver and gold.

The exploratory work was earmarked for approval in June by the San Isabel National Forest in the Leadville Ranger District, but the project is closer to Aspen than Leadville. The drilling will occur near the North Fork Lake Creek trailhead, a popular mountain hike that leads to a divide overlooking the Fryingpan Lakes. The site is at a major switchback on the valley floor on the Twin Lakes side of Independence Pass, roughly 3 miles by road from the summit.

The work is slated 25 miles southeast of Aspen and 12 miles west of Twin Lakes.

The story of the Eureka Saturday Night project is full of rich mining history, intrigue over potential ore deposits and environmental concern.

The Aspen-based Independence Pass Foundation is monitoring the project and submitted concerns to the U.S. Forest Service.

"It's our mission to protect and preserve the ecological integrity of the Independence Pass corridor," said Karin Teague, the foundation's executive director. "The corridor, as it is now, is pristine."

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While it's just exploratory work at this point, the project will still have impacts, Teague said.

Aging owner seeks answers

Jim Fine, who was born and raised in Twin Lakes, and his Eureka Mining LLC want to drill to find out exactly what he possesses on the Eureka and Saturday Night mining claims.

"This mine's been in my life since I was 8 years old," said Fine, now 70. He said he recalls panning for gold in the area as a child with is dad, Bob Fine. His father always told him of the great deposits the mining claims held. Fine said it's time for him to find out definitively one way or another.

"I want to be satisfied in my own mind," he said.

Bob Fine migrated from Kansas to Leadville in 1932 and did mining-related work. He eventually got involved in custom building equipment for mines, according to Jim Fine. He acquired the Eureka and Saturday Night claims when a company he made equipment for failed to pay the debt, Jim Fine said. The mining claims were first patented in the early 1880s.

Exploratory drilling plan

Jim Fine's team plans to build a temporary road 400 feet long and 12 feet wide off the major switchback on Highway 82 just west of the North Fork Lake Creek trailhead. The drilling would be from a 50-by-50 foot pad at the end of the road. Up to 2,000 gallons of water will be hauled to the site every day during drilling.

Fine said exploratory drilling is expensive work. It won't require a derrick high in the air, and the site will have a fence built around it to shield the activity from view as much as possible. He said the work will be performed roughly 200 yards to the west of North Fork Lake Creek on terrain sloping uphill to the west. One horizontal drill hole will be drilled to a depth of as much as 2,000 feet. Four additional holes may be drilled.

"Operations may run continuously for 10 hours per day, five days per week, for approximately five to seven weeks, with occasional breaks," according to a notice of the project issued by the Forest Service.

An approval called a categorical exclusion was expected to be issued for the project prior to Wednesday, Amy Titterington, forest geologist, said last week. She was unavailable for comment Monday on whether the approval was granted as expected. The approval is for one year. If the exploratory work produces promising deposits, Eureka Mining LLC or any other company interested in mining silver and gold would have to go through another environmental review before a mine could operate, Titterington said.

The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety approved the exploratory work in March.

Mine for sale for $8 million

Anyone familiar with the mining history in the Colorado Rockies knows that mine owners weren't shy about promoting their properties as the richest claims on Earth — even if it was just speculation. Fine is making the Eureka Saturday Night mine out to be lucrative even before the results of the exploratory drilling are known. The mine is listed for sale for $8 million on MineListings.com.

Jim Fine said he hired a company called Harrison Western to perform an in-depth study of the mine shortly after his dad died in 1977.

"Projected total probable and possible gold and silver deposits worth almost $1.2 billion at $1,200 gold and $16 silver based on a Harrison Western report," the mine listing says.

The property includes 21 acres of surface rights, 620 acres of mineral rights and about 2,800 tons of tailings. A history of the property shows it was worked intermittently from 1880 through the 1960s.

"The last production recorded was in 1961, when approximately 14 ounces of gold were recovered from 27 tons of ore shipping," the geological report said.

The mine listing terms say Eureka Mining LLC will lease the property, lease it with a purchase option, sell or enter a joint venture.

Fine contended that he wouldn't sell or go into business with any entity unless he is convinced it won't "screw up the environment."

Teague said she talked to Fine and was assured by him that he will be the best steward of a mine as possible. Still, she said, it is mining work and it raises concerns.

The work and the potential mine is on the edge of the Mount Massive Wilderness. It will create visual and auditory disturbances close to a popular hiking trail.

The Forest Service had no discretion in granting approval to Eureka Mining, Teague said, since short-term mineral investigation is an allowed use in the national forest.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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