Tom Clyde: The second Daly West mine disaster
May 15, 2015
The headframe of the Daly West mine tipped over last week. This was the 85-foot tall iron tower that sat on top of the mineshaft, and held the pulley that the hoist rope went over to lift the cage up and down the shaft. The shaft collapsed, and a hole big enough to swallow a whole fleet of Escalades opened up. People sounded surprised, but somebody knew it was falling apart. There was orange construction fencing around the base of the headframe, inside the normal security fence, all winter long. We all know that orange fencing will protect us from almost anything.
The Daly West is an important part of our mining heritage. It was the site of the worst mine disaster in Park City history, when an explosion killed 35 men in 1902. Its location just behind the Montage Hotel was a great visual of where we came from and where we are now. This is more than a relic. The shaft drops straight down 1600 feet to the Ontario Drain Tunnel. Think from Heber Ave. to the Treasure Mountain Inn. A hole like that can’t be left alone. If it isn’t an emergency access to the drain tunnel, it needs to get corked off.
The plan is apparently to plug the shaft, fill the hole, and call it good. The old headframe was severely damaged in the collapse. Restoration doesn’t seem to be part of the plan. It needs to be saved. It’s too important as a part of history and culture to just plug the hole and move on. Everybody still seems to be in the head scratching stage of this — "Ay-yup, that’s a mighty big hole you got there."
It’s time to make a stand. It’s been 30 years since some idiot stoners set the Coalition Building on fire. The commitment to preserving what’s left has been sort of lacking ever since. One thing that makes Park City unique is the mining history, and the fact that much of it is still more or less there. The Daly West is a pile of scrap unless somebody steps in and salvages it. The Silver King buildings, the California Comstock, ore bins and water tanks are all teetering on the edge. They are very interesting, visually important, and do a lot to define the community and make it unique. They are treasures.
They are also huge liabilities in their present condition. In one of the country’s most expensive real estate markets, armies of lawyers have been deployed to make sure their clients are inoculated against responsibility for these sites. The sites are probably toxic in the physical sense as well as the legal. Jordanelle Service District is the owner of the Daly West. Finding somebody who will admit to responsibility on the others is pretty tough. The fingerprints have been wiped clean, the VIN numbers filed off.
Vail dodged the issue in the approval of the connector gondola. The City really did nothing. The approval was filled with weasel words that said there is an obligation, but never said whose, what, or when. Studies will be done. Consultants will be hired. And decay marches on. Talisker bought United Park City Mines Company, so if the mine sites aren’t Vail’s under the ski lease, they are Talisker’s responsibility. Talisker’s carcass is being picked apart by its lenders. If we are waiting for Talisker to step up and do the right thing, we are fools.
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There is a unanimous chorus singing, "it’s not my job," with the City belting out the melody. Will skiing in Empire Bowl be measurably less enjoyable if the Daly West is gone? Will vacationers quit coming if the Thaynes or Bonanza areas are scraped clean of the mine buildings? Probably not, but we lose a big part of our unique heritage if they are demolished through neglect. Those old buildings (and the ore bins, water tanks, aerial tram towers, and other stuff scattered about) are part of what makes us unique.
The Daly West shaft is going to get plugged. That has to happen. Scrapping the headframe doesn’t. It can be re-built right where it was. If there is money for yet another "gathering place" next to the liquor store in Swede Alley, surely there is money to rebuild the headframe.
Somebody apparently believes that more people will spend more money on Main Street because it has granite sidewalks. I’ve never seen anybody taking pictures of the granite sidewalks. It’s hard to remember a day without seeing groups of skiers, hikers, or bikers pausing to take pictures of the Daly West, California Comstock, or Silver King. They are a valued part of the experience.
Without the Coliseum, Rome would still be a great city. It just wouldn’t be Rome.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.