It's the Pits

Mining made history in Victor. But will a new gold rush devour its future?

Before the blasting began, Fuhlrodt says, "I didn't have any cracks in my house. None. They say it's just because it's an old building, but it's not logical that all these buildings would have the same thing going wrong with them at the same time. Every time they blast, I just watch the cracks get bigger."

Jim Komadina of CCV says he has no evidence that the mine's blasting has damaged any building in town. The charges are set in a delayed pattern, he says, to concentrate the force in the rock rather than outward, and the company hasn't even come close to exceeding the standards for "peak particle velocity" set by the state's Division of Minerals and Geology. His engineers have visited the complainants and placed sensors around town to measure any vibrations, he says, and have yet to find any problem that could be attributed to the mining.

"Twice now, we've had an independent consultant come out and evaluate our data and techniques," he says. "Both times the report has come back that we're having very little effect on those buildings. Natural wind and heating and cooling move the buildings more than we do."

Komadina notes that many of Victor's century-old buildings are constructed with soft-fired brick and weren't well-maintained during the town's long slump. He maintains that many of the structural problems pre-date the arrival of the mine. But property owners who've engaged in extensive renovation of their buildings in recent years and are now repairing fresh damage tend to see things differently.

"They say they're within the standards, but within the standards of what?" asks Dave McCormick, who's had to contend with falling plaster, broken windows and a cockeyed doorframe in two of his properties in town. "What are the standards for blasting through bedrock next to a town that's a hundred years old? I'm trying not to sound drastic, but they're literally blowing this town apart."

Two months ago, Mayor Hopkins took the locals' concerns about the weekly detonations to the state's Mined Land Reclamation Board. One of the complainants was Hopkins himself, who believes a blast last May is the culprit that cracked loose some recently installed skylights in his two-story brick building downtown.

"I can't trace it directly to the blasting," the mayor concedes. "Maybe my building settled. Maybe all eleven buildings that I know about settled in the same three months. But when all the skylights crack on the same side, in the same time frame--I got a problem with that."

The MLRB told Hopkins it would need more than locals' suspicions before it could conclude that the mine was causing damage in Victor. But councilman Winblood, who also happens to be Victor's building inspector, says there's no way to adequately document the relationship between blasting and fractured bricks in Victor without spending thousands of dollars on a detailed study of the question--money the town doesn't have. The only studies the state has done, he says, "are on new buildings, with full-fired brick and Portland mortar."

Winblood says he's stood on the second floor of Victor's City Hall and felt the building shake when CCV detonates its charges. "The permit limits them to a half-inch a second of lateral movement," he notes. "But that doesn't have anything to do with how much the building shakes. It's a subjective value, and experts disagree about what's acceptable."

It's ironic, Winblood suggests, that blasting has become an issue at a time when the city council has been working hard on renovation and preservation efforts, passing new zoning measures to protect the "historical integrity" of its turn-of-the-century architecture. (Until recently, he says, "it was possible to build a Quonset hut across from City Hall.") But all that effort may be for naught if the town can't come to some understanding with the mine.

"The mine asks for permits, and they don't notify the city that they're asking for those permits," Winblood says. "By the time we hear about them, they've already been approved. It's all legal. It's just not neighborly."

Komadina says that he's met frequently with city officials and that CCV has "gone the extra mile on a lot of different issues," including offering to videotape properties that residents are concerned about in order to document any alleged damage. He says he doesn't know what else his company can do to address a problem it regards as nonexistent. "We're more than willing to reconsider our position," he says, "but all the data keeps coming back negative."

Victorites, though, know what they've seen with their own eyes. Shirley Seese has lived in Victor for three decades, and she has few complaints with the way the mine does things. "This is a mining district," she says. "We all knew it when we moved here. You can't take it out of the ground the way they did a hundred years ago. At least now we see guys with hardhats and lunch pails again; before, all we were was a free museum."

But Seese knows what she saw. Last year she was standing at her kitchen sink when the mine let loose with one of its biggest blasts. As she watched, a one-inch crack in her Formica kitchen counter suddenly snaked to eighteen inches, and fresh cracks surfaced in its wake.

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