Administrative History
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Cultural Resources

Mojave National Preserve's cultural resources are extensive and multifaceted. Prehistoric habitation, ranching, homesteading, mining, railroading, and military operations have scattered cultural resources throughout the park, and the dry climate and remoteness of some of the sites have helped to preserve them. Most of the park's cultural resources are managed under a philosophy of benign neglect, a consequence of limited resources and personnel. The same "sense of discovery" that limits widespread interpretation of park resources also makes them more difficult to find, which aids in their preservation.

fock walls
Illustration 22 - The rock walls of the military outpost at Piute Creek were constructed in 1867-1868. (Photo by Eric Nystrom, 2001.)

Extensive rock art exists throughout the Preserve; so much so that archaeologist Robert Bryson, cultural resources chief at Mojave, considered the area to be one of the biggest collections of rock art in the world. Much of it has been vandalized, but some rock art is entirely intact. Even at vandalized sites, important resources may still remain, especially under the soil. All known archaeological sites in the Preserve were entered into an NPS database called ASMIS, set up by Doug Scovill in the early days of the park. More recently, the data have been updated and refined by Bryson in a new effort to fully document the resources of the park. [344]

Only low rock walls remain of the military outpost at Piute Creek, known colloquially as "Fort Piute." This area was declared an Area of Critical Environmental Concern by the BLM, in recognition of both the cultural values of the fort and the Mojave Road, as well as the extensive flora and fauna supported by Piute Creek, the Preserve's only perennial stream. In 2002, Park Service experts assisted the Preserve in stabilizing the remains of the walls, which were steadily crumbling under pressure from visitors and plants. Other former military sites along the Mojave Road, including the outpost at Rock Spring and that at Marl Springs, are not as well preserved as Piute Creek. These sites receive considerable traffic for their locations, and therefore are also a focus of increased ranger patrols to ensure no degradation of the resource takes place.

The history of the nineteenth-century military in the eastern Mojave is bound up with the history of another unusual historical artifact, the Mojave Road. After a volunteer group published a four-wheel drive guide to the trail in 1983, the route became a favorite of off-road vehicle users, many of whom travel in groups. BLM did not require permission for large groups on the Mojave Road, but the NPS asks groups with more than twenty five people to obtain a free group use permit, to help the park better monitor road traffic. An informal tally of road users has been kept by the Friends of the Mojave Road since the trail's 1983 rebirth, by counting the numbers of signatures in a sign-in book kept in a mailbox on a remote part of the route. A cultural resource inventory for the Mojave Road cultural landscape was completed, and a National Register Nomination is underway. The General Management Plan's preferred alternative explicitly provides for the possibility of commercially guided tours over the Mojave Road. [345]

The Kelso Depot is one of the most significant buildings in the Mojave National Preserve, and plans to rehabilitate the structure into a visitors' center have driven management decisions about it. [346] Since the formation of the park, the depot has been heavily patrolled. Portable restrooms were placed near the depot in 1995 to meet visitor demands, and in 1998, wayside exhibits were produced and mounted near the building to tell some of its history. [347] Pacific Great Basin Support Office historian Gordon Chappell and Denver Service Center Historical Architect Robert Carper led a team that produced a Historic Structure Report of the depot, published in January 1998. The Kelso Depot Development Concept Plan, along with a Floodplain Statement of Findings, was included with the General Management Plan as the latter was developed. In essence, the Development Concept Plan calls for the depot to be returned to a condition that approximates its pre-1940 look. Modern improvements, such as additional landscaping, external restrooms, and parking would be designed in such a way that they would be partially shielded from view, and would not detract architecturally from the depot. As funding becomes available, other nearby buildings, especially the Kelso Schoolhouse and the Kelso Post Office, will be restored as well; stabilization of the schoolhouse took place in 2002. In August 2001, the depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places. [348]

The Kelso Depot is associated with the nearby Vulcan Iron Mine, part of the Kelso Historic District. In early 1998, Hugh Davenport, owner of the Vulcan Mine and surrounding patented land, donated the former iron mine to the park. Shortly before the creation of Mojave National Preserve, a company proposed filling the pit with shredded tires, but public reaction to the plan was very negative and San Bernardino County rejected the proposal. [349] The Kelso Depot and Vulcan Mine district provide a cultural link from the history of the eastern Mojave to nationally significant railroad history, industrial history, and history of the home front during World War II.

water trough
Illustration 23 - The Rock Springs Land & Cattle Company constructed this circular water trough and lumber corral near Barnwell sometime between 1894 and 1919. (Photo by Eric Nystrom, 2001.)

In contrast, the widespread ranching landscape in the eastern Mojave does not seem significant on the same scale at first glance, but in actuality reflects nationally important business and natural history themes. Extensive ranching structures dating from the 1800s to the modern day were inherited by the Park Service as grazing permits were acquired and retired between 1998 and 2002. Beginning in late 2001, the park contracted to have a National Register district nomination completed for the historic Rock Springs Land & Cattle Company, represented by the Kessler Springs and OX Ranches. Some of the headquarters buildings and range improvements will be retained for interpretation, some newer non-contributing features and fences will be removed, and some buildings, especially at Kessler Springs, will be adaptively reused as park employee housing and maintenance facilities. Many of the historic ranching features are in very good condition, because they were in continuous use until after the Preserve was created. [350]

mine headframe
Illustration 24 - The headframe of the Evening Star Mine, in the Ivanpah Mountains, provides a substantial reminder of Mojave National Preserve's mining heritage. (Photo by Eric Nystrom, 2002.)

Just as ranching features have been nominated as historic districts, plans under development grant some facets of Mojave National Preserve's mining heritage similar treatment. The Standard Mining District, located in the Ivanpah Mountains, will be evaluated for historic significance in 2002, and others will be addressed in years to come. Before the interest in the Standard area, most mine sites did not receive park management attention for their value as historic artifacts, but instead for their hazards and potential for renewed mining. Since abandoned mines are located in remote areas and often have existing buildings, they have been used by clandestine drug manufacturers with alarming regularity. Regular ranger patrols have cut down on the likelihood of this kind of use. Some sites, especially those with less extant historic value, have been declared hazards and rehabilitated. Rainbow Wells was a site of mining and ranching activity from the early 20th century, but most recently harbored an illegal methamphetamine lab in 1998. After the lab was found and removed, everything at the site was sent to a landfill outside the park. All that is left of Rainbow Wells today is a few Joshua trees and some uneven ground.

Mining in the area that is now Mojave National Preserve has long been a major use, and was recognized by the California Desert Protection Act as a use that would be permitted to continue after the creation of the Preserve. In general, mining is not encouraged in national parks. For a long time, the Park Service had no means of regulating mining on park lands. After the NPS was unable to prevent a company from establishing a major mine just inside the borders of Death Valley National Monument in the late 1960s, Congress passed the Mining in the Parks Act in 1976 to give the NPS powers to regulate mining activity on its lands in such a way that is compatible with the agency's mission. The act, codified in the so-called "9A regulations," gives the Park Service broad powers to restrict potential mining operations, and establishes strict procedures for creating new mines in parks. The mining issue in Mojave National Preserve can easily be divided into two categories. One half concerns the past - former mines in the Preserve which now pose liabilities to the park; the other side concerns the future of mining in the park, evaluating claims that could become new mines. The two overlap because only claims established before 1994 could become active mines, and many claims exist at the sites of mines that were worked in the past.

Historically, exploration and extraction of minerals was long one of the top industries in the Mojave desert. The region was geologically very active, which increased the number and variety of minerals deposited in the desert rock, and lack of obscuring plant cover made mineral deposits easier for prospectors to locate. Native Americans and possibly Spaniards and Mexicans mined in the area before California became part of the United States. Beginning in the 1860s, Americans mined the eastern Mojave for a wide variety of minerals until the creation of Mojave National Preserve in 1994. Each of these sites of former activity left a legacy on the landscape, of shafts, adits, and above-ground structures. It is possible for the park to trace the owners of some of the newer mines, and demand reclamation of the site. Those mines for whom no responsible party can be found are known as abandoned mine lands (AML). Mojave National Preserve's list of AMLs includes some 419 entries as of 2002 [351]

In 1998, the park hired Andrew Lesczykowski as a restoration geologist to deal with AML issues. Lesczykowski, a U.S. Bureau of Mines veteran, was part of a team in the early 1990s that produced a report that evaluated the mineral resources of the area that is now the Preserve. That Bureau of Mines report, which listed all known historic mines in the eastern Mojave, has been used by Preserve staff as a preliminary list for evaluating the status of abandoned mines in the area. The park has created a database listing all known AMLs, and is systematically evaluating them to determine the extent of the workings, the safety hazards involved, the historic period of the remaining features, and any chemical or hazardous materials concerns that may be present at the site. Armed with this data and with the concurrence of experts in relevant fields, mines can be reclaimed in a variety of ways. In some situations, such as the Rainbow Wells site, the existing features were not historic and the place was simply a hazard. The site was cleaned up, trash and debris hauled away, and the ground recontoured and ripped up to promote plant growth. At other sites, shafts may be filled with dirt originally taken from them, if it is piled nearby. Other shafts and tunnels might be filled with a polyurethane foam plug, several feet long, that expands to fill the opening, then backfilled with earth. Others may simply be left alone, if they are remote enough to pose no visible threat or if they harbor bat habitat, as many mine tunnels in the Preserve do. [352]

All total, some 15,000 claims have been staked in the area that is now Mojave National Preserve. The number of "active" claims, meaning those whose paperwork and filing fee was up to date, exceeded 3,000 when the park was established in 1994. The CDPA placed special restrictions on mining claims in the Preserve. All claims, like those in other parks, are subject to the Mining in the Parks Act, or "9A" regulations. In an unusual twist, the CDPA required that the Preserve conduct validity exams on all active claims in the park, rather than only those claims that propose new operations. This requirement means that all of the claims in the park will eventually be rendered either valid or invalid, permanently eliminating the threat of mining on those found invalid and identifying any valid claims for purchase by conservation forces and "solving" the future of mining in Mojave National Preserve. The requirement also means that considerable money and effort must be put into the validity examination program before the process is complete. [353]

The Park Service took steps to reduce the list of active claims in August 1998, when Ted Weasma and Gordon Pine, both certified mineral examiners, were hired to work in the Geological Resources Division in the Denver Service Center. The two were assigned to Mojave, with the understanding that they would work on validity exams in Joshua Tree and Death Valley as well. After one year, Weasma and Pine were administratively transferred to the Preserve, though the duo continued to periodically assist other parks. They have reduced the list of active claims from over 3,000 to 486 by mid-2002, almost exclusively through monitoring active claim administrative procedures.

To have a valid claim under 9A regulations, a series of standards must be met. There must be a mineral present in a quantity and of a quality that a "reasonable person" would expend time and money extracting it. Importantly, the mineral must be marketable as well. Many claims fall on the question of marketability. A hypothetical claimed gold deposit that is big enough, if mined, to make a profit at 1994 prices, is valid. If the market dips the following year, making the mine break even at best, then the claim is permanently invalid, even if the market rebounds. For a claim to be valid, it had to have been valid at the time the claim was staked, valid at the time of the passage of the CDPA, valid at the time of examination, valid at the time of an administrative hearing, and valid all of the times in between. Given the variations inherent in mineral commodity markets, the marketability standard sets a very high hurdle for claims to be found valid. In addition, fees must be filed promptly. If the owner of a claim fails to file paperwork or an annual fee on time, the claim is rendered permanently invalid. The end result is a process that, in Weasma's words, makes it "very, very difficult" for a miner to prove his claim valid. These difficulties are posed by mining law, not by Mojave National Preserve or the Park Service. Weasma and Pine both emphasized that their professional reputations rest on the impartiality of their work, and Pine added that, "the Park Service has never told us to find a claim invalid." [354]

As funding permitted, Weasma and Pine guided validity examinations for active claims. No validity work could be done in the field until the process stipulated by the National Environmental Policy Act was completed, a procedure which took two years. Some exams are contracted to outside vendors and supervised by the park; six contracts have been awarded as of mid-2002. Pine and Weasma worked on exams themselves as well, but because of the length of the exams and the limited funding available to them, only a handful have been initiated.

If a claim were ever found valid, the owner would need to submit a Plan of Operations for the park's approval before mining or other activity could begin. Park regulations would require a reclamation bond sufficient to return the property to a pristine state after the mine exhausted its working life, and any wilderness or access issues would have to be addressed as well. As of mid-2002, four mines have activity pending park approval. The Morning Star Mine has proposed a reclamation operation, the Golden Quail Mine has a potential cleanup in the works, and the Cima Cinder Mine and the Telegraph Mine have Plans of Operation submitted to the park. [355]

The Cima Cinder Mine was the only mine in Mojave National Preserve that was in operation when the area became part of the National Park System. Its cinders were used mostly in the production of cinder blocks that were used in the southwest. After the death of the original owner of the mine, Emerson Ray, the mine was operated for the family trust by Lorene Caffee, his daughter, and her husband Terence Caffee. In the early 1990s, a BLM validity examiner determined that the Caffees could patent their claim, and the application to turn their mine into private land advanced to Washington DC, where it remained unsigned, victim of a national political decision not to grant any more mineral patents on federal lands. [356]

After passage of the CDPA, Superintendent Marvin Jensen issued temporary permits to Cima Cinder and several other small operations to continue mining until they prepared a Plan of Operations that met Park Service standards. Cima Cinder continued to operate without a permanent Plan of Operations under several extensions of the temporary permission, with support of Rep. Jerry Lewis and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, because of the financial hardship that would have resulted from a shutdown. [357] In August 1999, the Western Mining Action Project, headed by the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, filed notice of a lawsuit against the NPS for allowing the mine to continue to operate without a valid Plan of Operations. The day before the lawsuit was to be filed, Superintendent Martin decided to shut down the mine. She and Chief Ranger Sean McGuinness served notice on the Caffees on August 10, 1999 in an atmosphere fraught with anxious undertones. [358] NPS Regional Director John Reynolds eventually persuaded the superintendent to take McGuinness, but Martin initially wanted to go by herself:

"I was nervous about taking anyone else out there with me. These guys had threatened to kill anyone that shut them down, so I decided I don't want to put anyone else in danger. ... I didn't think he'd shoot me but I did think he'd shoot someone else. I figured he knew me, and sometimes these guys are kinda macho and they can't, you know, be rude to a female, but they could to a male. So I was afraid to have somebody else go out there in case he decided to do something weird - you can never tell." [359]

Since the mine has been shut down, the market that the Caffees once served has found other sources of cinders, which makes it unlikely that the mine will ever again meet the marketability standard to be declared a valid claim. The Caffee family places the blame on the Park Service, charging that Lorene and Terry Caffee submitted a revised Plan of Operations that was never acted upon by Preserve staff. The park prepared an environmental assessment, which has not gone out for public review because the Caffees requested the opportunity to comment first and have not done so. [360] Ultimately, the case of the Cima Cinder Mine is a testament to the byzantine nature of mining regulations and the unusual character of resource management work in Mojave National Preserve.

Just as extensive mining in what is now Mojave National Preserve causes the park to stand apart as an unusual case, the Preserve's management faced an unusually large number of hazardous materials problems as a result of historic activities on what are now park lands. All national parks have to concern themselves with hazardous materials to a certain extent, because so many things in modern use are hazardous when disposed of improperly. Mojave National Preserve avoided some of the most common park-based hazardous materials scenarios because the Preserve joined the national park system after in-park development, with their associated trash dumps and motor maintenance shops, fell out of favor. Nonetheless, because of its neighbors, its mining past, and the history of use of the desert as a dumping ground, Mojave National Preserve has faced an extensive set of non-emergency hazardous materials problems.

The most complex hazardous materials threat that the park has faced originated just outside park boundaries. The Molycorp Inc. Mountain Pass Mine and Chemical Processing Facility consists of an open pit rare earth metals mine and milling facilities nestled in the hills between I-15 and Clark Mountain. The host rock, estimated to be 2.5 billion years old, was originally claimed as a gold deposit, the Sulphide Queen, in 1936. Its history as a rare earth or lanthanides mine began when Herbert Woodward and Clarence Watkins, prospectors searching for uranium in the post- World War II atomic boom, discovered that the area possessed a radioactive profile. The uranium sought by prospectors was present only in small quantities, but the presence of bastnasite, ore that harbors extremely rare elements collectively known as lanthanides, ensured the profitability of the operation. Molycorp bought the claims in 1950 and began mining in 1951, although the production of lanthanides was not the main focus of the operation until its purchase by UNOCAL in 1977. [361]

In 1980, Molycorp constructed a 14-mile underground wastewater pipeline between its Mountain Pass facilities and evaporation ponds on Ivanpah Dry Lake. Approximately five miles of this pipeline was inside the boundaries of Mojave National Preserve when it was created in 1994. Molycorp told regulators that the pipeline would be carrying nothing more than highly salty water, a byproduct of the milling process, so regulators allowed the company to drain its wastewater into open evaporation ponds on the playa. Molycorp did not tell the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board that heavy metals and radioactive materials also accumulated in the wastewater. Between 1984 and 1993, Molycorp reported over 40 spills from the pipeline, totaling 727,000 gallons, but the board only asked for samples to be taken twice, thinking that the saline water posed no threat to the environment. [362]

By 1996, Molycorp was in a temporary state of partial shutdown because the existing plan of operations of the mine had expired. The facility intended to expand and needed to increase the carrying capacity of the wastewater pipeline. Molycorp decided to aggressively scrub the inside of the pipeline to remove buildup, or "scale," and to increase the capacity of the pipe. This process, known as "pigging," uses a jet of high pressure water to push a foam and wire plug through the pipe. This plug, or "pig," scoured the buildup off of the inside of the pipe. This procedure was conducted regularly as part of routine maintenance but had not been performed for some time prior to the decision to increase pipeline capacity. Molycorp chose a larger than normal pig to achieve a greater scrubbing effect. The company evidently was not aware of a section of six-inch diameter pipe in the buried pipeline, which they assumed was a uniform 8 inches diameter. [363]

The pig got stuck in the pipe. The combination of excessive scale and an oversize pig caused pipeline pressures well beyond capacity, which ruptured the pipe in several places. Between July 24 and August 5, 1996, the pipeline released waste into the environment at least 11 times, totaling in excess of 350,000 gallons. Some of this waste contained heavy metals and low levels of radioactivity, up to 100 times acceptable (background) levels. The BLM ordered Molycorp to clean up the spills by February, but the company disagreed with the government about cleanup details. The situation stagnated, with the waste still covering the ground. [364]

The impasse prompted other agencies to get involved. The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board issued Cleanup and Abatement Order 6-97-66 to Molycorp on April 21, 1997, requiring the company to repair the damage. The board also included the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service in their directive because the spills were on federal land. Sean McGuinness, operating with advice from Heather Davies, an NPS hazardous materials specialist, coordinated the NPS response. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a Biological Opinion on May 1, 1997, to set procedures for protection of the desert tortoise. Molycorp continued to move slowly, even as McGuinness and Davies insisted on formal and complete cleanup procedures. In June 1997, the federal agencies, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, established an Incident Command to jointly manage the federal response to the 1996 spills. The NPS took the position of lead agency for several months, then relinquished the responsibility to the Bureau of Land Management, at least partially because of a lack of NPS staff availability in the wake of the Dollar Budget. On June 18 and 19, 1997, the NPS and BLM issued temporary permits to allow Molycorp to clean up the discharges. [365]

Molycorp began the process of cleaning up the spills in late July 1997, and finished the job by March 1998. This task was mostly completed with hand tools, as a vacuum truck was only of limited success. The cleanup crews packaged the waste into 95 bins and 1,840 drums, of which more than half was radioactive. Molycorp did not want this radiologically-active waste labeled "radioactive," out of fear of being forced into a new category of regulation. Haggling over this and other issues delayed the final shipment of waste from the playa, but the containers were sent to landfills in 1999. The cleanup cost Molycorp approximately $3.6 million, although some estimates are higher, depending on what costs are included in the total. Almost 4 miles of desert tortoise fencing was installed during the cleanup to help protect the reptiles, as the spills occurred in critical tortoise habitat. [366]

On March 23,1998, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board issued orders requiring Molycorp to cease disposing of and clean up radioactive and hazardous waste in ponds on the playa and at the mill site. Disposal of hazardous and radioactive waste was a violation of the company's wastewater permit, which only allowed innocuous salt-infused water to be dumped in the ponds. The same day, Molycorp announced that it would permanently close the wastewater pipeline and temporarily shut down part of its mill until a solution could be found to the wastewater dilemma. Later, Molycorp decided to remove the pipeline altogether, although that work has not been completed to date. The board assessed $410,000 in fines for late and non-existent reporting of spills on July 9, 1998, and increased the penalties that would be levied against Molycorp if future violations occurred. [367] To comply with the board's orders, Molycorp prepared a study of all of the hazardous and radioactive materials along the pipeline. In the resulting document, the company revealed that many other releases from the wastewater pipeline had occurred over the years. Since 1984, the company recorded 69 spills from the pipe, totaling some 971,000 gallons of waste. The board ordered a survey of the pipeline, which identified additional areas that required remediation and presented a plan for pipeline removal. [368]

Molycorp faced legal troubles as well. San Bernardino County prosecutors conducted a criminal investigation into whether the company lied to regulatory agencies after the 1996 spills. Shortly after authorities learned of the spills, a joint federal/state/county team seized boxes of documents about the incidents from Molycorp's Mountain Pass offices. On May 19, 1998, county prosecutors took over a civil suit against the mine which alleged that Molycorp violated state drinking water safety laws. [369] The firm's environmental, legal, and regulatory problems prompted Molycorp's September 1998 announcement that it would temporarily suspend operation of its mine and mill until environmental reviews were complete and a solution was found to its expansion and wastewater dilemmas. [370]

Dave Anderson, a specialist in hazardous materials (HAZMAT) management, came to the staff of Mojave National Preserve from the Environmental Protection Agency in September 1998 to help NPS manage the Molycorp situation and other HAZMAT issues. After the 1996 spills, several concurrent threads of activity formed around Molycorp, all of which demanded NPS participation and awareness. Since some of the Molycorp pipeline spills were on NPS land and other Molycorp actions had the potential to affect NPS water and land resources, the Park Service had to maintain an active presence in the ongoing work. These efforts included the cleanup of pipeline spills, the investigation of alternative sources of contaminants, the investigation of groundwater at the mine facility itself, the mine's expansion proposal, the investigations of pollutants at the old and new Ivanpah evaporation ponds, and the Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment study. Molycorp reimbursed Mojave for the expenses the park incurred while directly working on Molycorp projects, but park staff was significantly impacted nonetheless. Anderson later identified the Molycorp issue as a "tar baby" because of the amount of time Mojave staff had to spend on it. With Molycorp, Anderson's primary responsibility was to maintain an active NPS presence in all of the cleanup and compliance efforts, and ensure that the interests of the park and of the park's partners were taken into consideration. [371]

Other projects, for HAZMAT incidents inside park boundaries, saw Anderson take a more active role in planning and executing evaluation and cleanup efforts; the Rainbow Wells / OX Ranch cleanup provides a good illustration. In March 2001, Mojave National Preserve formed an agreement with the California Integrated Waste Management Board to split the costs of cleaning up some hazardous sites in the Preserve. The partnership resulted in the cleanup of the Rainbow Wells site and the OX Ranch dump in late April and early May 2001. The former site was the location of a small mine, but after the resident owner died in 1997, the buildings were badly vandalized and used to shelter a methamphetamine production lab. After two men were caught producing the drug in 1998, the site was targeted by the Preserve for cleanup. Most of the structures were non-historic, and all were badly damaged. Ultimately, some 550 tons of material went to a landfill, and another 176 tons of scrap metal was recycled. The dump at the OX Ranch, which the Park Service had acquired only months before, had been in use for many decades, but because of frequent bulldozing to compact and turn over debris, the historic fabric of the dump was not intact. Some 440 tons of material from the dump was sent to area landfills outside the park, and another 210 tons of metal was recycled. Eleven tons of contaminated soil was also removed and sent to a disposal facility before the site was contoured and graded. Despite the magnitude of cleanup problems at places like Rainbow Wells and the OX Ranch, Mojave National Preserve utilized partnerships to keep costs down. For the two cleanups, the park only had to pay half of the final $167,000 cost. [372]

cyanide leach heap
Illustration 25 - Mojave National Preserve faced potential ecological damage when the cyanide leach heap at Morning Star Mine began to overflow due to poor design. (Photo by Eric Nystrom, 2001.)

Most of the potential hazardous materials problems in Mojave National Preserve are associated with abandoned mine lands in the park. These range from small petroleum spills and leftover mining chemicals to huge leaking cyanide heaps, but all of them feature levels of hazardous materials in excess of legal standards, and in all of them the Preserve is potentially liable. One example is the Kelso Dunes Mine site, where Art Parker used a giant magnet to pull magnetite ore from the sands, with hopes that the result would contain platinum and gold. All of the processing of Parker's ore was conducted elsewhere, so no milling wastes remain at the site. However, in the process of filling and using Parker's diesel-powered machinery, some fuel, hydraulic fluid, and motor oil leaked onto the ground. According to the state of California, any petroleum levels above 1000 parts per million (ppm) in soils must be removed; the Kelso Dunes Mine site sports contamination 7 to 32 times the legal limit in almost 1,400 tons of soil. Parker is the Potentially Responsible Party in the case, but if he fails to clean up the area, the park may have to do so, at a cost of at least $73,000. [373]

The Morning Star Mine was a more serious abandoned mine land concern. Vanderbilt Gold Corporation mined for gold at Morning Star in the 1980s, and shut down by 1992 because of fiscal problems. Morning Star utilized a heap leach method to extract gold, where finely ground ore was placed upon a plastic liner, then dilute cyanide was sprayed over the heap. The cyanide dissolved the gold out of the ore, and carried it to a central drainage point, called a pregnant pond, where the gold and the cyanide would concentrate. Of the two heaps at the site, one has an external pregnant pond, outside of the heap, and the other has an internal pond, built into the ore heap itself. The problem occurred when it rains. The heaps fill with water, which drains along the same route as the cyanide solutions once did. Heap #1, with its external pond, has enough capacity to keep from overflowing, but heap #2, with the internal pond, simply fills up. Heavy rains caused Morning Star heap #2 to overflow, which eroded the top and sides of the pile. This posed a major threat to the plastic liner that held the heap materials in place - if the liner failed, the contents of the heap would flow down the wash into other park lands. While the park began the Superfund administrative processes for the site's eventual mitigation or remediation, the threat of catastrophic failure of the heap prompted emergency action. Park maintenance workers shored up the side of the heap with nearby materials, staving off collapse. While the Superfund process determines responsible parties and attempts to get them to pay for the cleanup, in spring 2002 the park constructed a simple gravity drain to prevent heap #2 from overflowing again. Mojave has applied for and received federal HAZMAT money for work on the Morning Star problem, but actual mitigation of the hazards could be years away. [374]

Some HAZMAT problems come to Mojave National Preserve because of the perception on the part of a small amount of the public that the desert is a wasteland and an appropriate place to dump unwanted trash. Some of these sites were in place long before the area passed to NPS control; others have seen dumping activity only very recently. One non-permitted dump site near Ivanpah had been used by the community for years, but under NPS regulations, the location had to be cleaned up, and some hazardous materials were found at the location. Two cleanups, in 1997 and 1998, had to take place before the site could be declared clean. [375]

Other dumping incidents were deliberate attempts to circumvent environmental laws. The 1995 dumping case, where two men from Las Vegas dumped resinated epoxy waste on NPS and BLM land was one of the most serious incidents of illegal dumping the park has seen. [376] In January 1999, Mojave called the San Bernardino County HAZMAT team to Halloran Springs Road, to investigate three old drums that were leaking a flammable fluid similar to paint thinner. The drums were stabilized, secured, and hauled away, along with a small amount of contaminated soil. [377]

Mojave has faced HAZMAT situations even more unusual than mine waste or illegal dumping. In January 1999, park personnel assisted a specially trained unit of U.S. Marines in the park. The leathernecks came to pick up a 75mm mortar round that was found inside the Preserve, a legacy of the eastern Mojave's use as a military training ground. The shell was discovered to not have explosive materials inside, but the soldiers noted that 5% to 15% of the calls they receive for such items turn up explosive items. All national parks have to be concerned with hazardous materials to one extent or another, but because of its proximity to urban areas, to major mines, and the history of extensive use of the area, Mojave National Preserve has faced an astonishing number and variety of hazardous materials scenarios. [378]

The history of the administration of Mojave National Preserve's resources echoed the larger challenges facing the park after the chaos of the Dollar Budget. Scarce staff time and money were allocated to mitigate immediate threats to the park, and many of the legislative compromises inherent in the park's design, such as grazing, mining, and hunting, created additional issues that demanded the attention of the resources staff. Despite the challenges posed by the human history of the park's lands and the sheer number and diversity of park resources, the Resource Management team of Mojave National Preserve acted in innovative and flexible ways to mitigate unwanted impacts and enhance the natural integrity of the lands under their care. The Preserve engaged a multitude of natural resource management issues, including wilderness, water rights, animals, grazing, acquisition of inholdings, and threats to Mojave's natural sound. Preserve staff also protected Mojave's extensive cultural resources, both historic and prehistoric, even as they attempted to neutralize threats from abandoned mine sites and hazardous materials, both legacies of Mojave's extensive history of human use. The steady work toward resolution of issues such as feral burros and abandoned mine lands will reduce the amount of staff time absorbed in the future by such unusual projects, but the size and diversity of Preserve resources, coupled with the special needs of Mojave's legislatively-permitted activities, will ensure the continuing importance of a creative Resource Management team at Mojave National Preserve.

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Last Updated: 05-Apr-2004