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More than a ghost of a chance

Don’t let the “for sale” sign next to the road near the ghost town of Independence fool you.

According to the director of the Aspen Valley Land Trust, chances are very good the organization will get enough money from the Colorado Lottery to purchase and preserve the 100-year-old town.

Reid Haughey, AVLT’s director, said the staff of Great Outdoors Colorado has recommended that its request be forwarded to the GOCO project committee, a major step in the funding process. AVLT asked GOCO for $300,000 to help with the purchase of the 160-acre parcel, which is made up of patented mining claims and contains part of the ghost town. GOCO is a state office created to distribute lottery funds.

After the project committee, the only remaining hurdle would be the GOCO board, Haughey said. Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails program has already approved a $300,000 grant toward the purchase.

In addition to the grant, AVLT has applied to GOCO for a loan for the balance of the purchase price. Haughey said the loan, if approved, would carry the property until it can be sold to the U.S. Forest Service. The Forest Service, which owns the rest of the ghost town, is interested in the purchase, said Haughey.

A potential environmental problem that recently surfaced at the ghost town shouldn’t affect the purchase. Haughey, in searching through historical documents, found that mercury was used in the late 1800s to separate ore during processing.

Haughey clarified an earlier statement that mercury had been found on the site, saying it was only known to have been used there through historical records.

“Mercury has been identified as an issue at the site,” Haughey said, “but no sampling has been done.” Historical evidence that it is there was turned up in the first phase of an environmental study, he said.

Ed Baltzer, district manager and environmental scientist for Walsh Environmental’s Grand Junction office, said mercury is often found in waste from gold mining around the turn of the century.

“They would grind up the ore and float it across the mercury,” Baltzer said. The rock would float and the gold would sink, forming an amalgam, or mixture, with the liquid metal.

The rock was then discarded, and the liquid amalgam was distilled to separate the gold, he said. Mercury boils at 674 degrees Fahrenheit, and as the mercury was boiled off the gold remained behind.

Baltzer said there’s little likelihood of mercury being found in mining waste, unless it was spilled. It was and is expensive in its own right, though not nearly as valuable as the gold it was used to isolate.

Mercury contamination of the Roaring Fork River is unlikely, Baltzer said, because elemental mercury was used for the process, rather than soluble compounds. While some mercury compounds have been known to cause serious water contamination, elemental mercury is not soluble in water. Mercury is toxic, however, and can affect the eyes and skin, the respiratory system and the central nervous system.

If significant mercury contamination is found, Haughey said, AVLT would likely hire a firm specializing in cleaning up such sites. The Forest Service would be less likely to add the property to its inventory if it was known to have significant contamination.


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