GREEN RIVER, Emery County — Helicopters and pack horses navigating the steep cliff faces of the San Rafael Swell were part of an ambitious effort carried out by state mining authorities to close more than 170 Cold War-era uranium mines.

The effort by the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining earned it the nation's highest achievement award for eliminating physical safety hazards, recognition given by the National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs.

“This is an honor to be recognized for our hard work,” said program administrator Steve Fluke.

“It is the goal of the program to protect the public from the hazards of old mines."

The agency partnered with the Bureau of Land Management and the Emery County Public Lands Council in its initiation of the project, which also faced obstacles from lambing bighorn sheep, constraints imposed by designated wilderness areas and challenges from radiation safety protocols.

Since there was no road access, the contractor had to use helicopters, all terrain vehicles and pack horses to reach the abandoned mines, which are in an area popular for camping, hiking and four-wheeling.

Hollie Brown, a spokeswoman with the division of mining, said the area was selected because of the increasing recreational popularity.

"Old mining sites can be intriguing to unsuspecting explorers but can contain dangerous gases, unstable structures and explosives," she said.

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The project was carried out over the course of two years and closed all known uranium mines in the area with walls, grates, gates and backfills.

In addition to the mine closures, the division used the project as an opportunitiy to collect oral histories who knew the work in the mines first hand. The division produced a video and also made transcripts of the interviews. The transcripts are available on the division's website.


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