It's the Pits

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

"Vindicator Valley is private property," he notes. "Private structures."
Although a survey conducted by the City of Victor indicates that most residents want to see the kind of buffer zone the council is seeking, Komadina dismisses the survey as unscientific and riddled with loaded questions. "This one issue of Vindicator Valley was never raised in our focus groups," he says. "It never came up on the radar screen."

The mine manager says CCV is awaiting the results of the Southern Teller County Focus Group's more elaborate survey before committing to a particular course. "When residents really say that something is an issue," he says, "we have always been responsive."

He adds, "Granted, not everyone is going to love us. But we do fill an integral part of the Colorado and the United States economy. I sleep very well at night."

Mining is the stuff of memories in Victor. But it's also become the agent of oblivion; the open pit outside of town claims more and more of the land around it and all that stood on the land, in a relentless act of forgetfulness. History is fragile, and in Victor there is much talk of trying to strike a balance between preserving the past and building the future. Lately, though, the forces of forgetfulness seem to be winning.

Bill Clymer hasn't been as involved in the battle against the mine since he suffered a stroke last January. "I forgot everything I knew," he says. "I couldn't even talk for a month. So I'm not as active anymore."

Although he knows the history of Victor better than most tour guides, Slim Hopkins is plagued by forgetfulness, too. He was in a serious car wreck a few years ago, he says, that left him with a "real bad memory problem."

"Sometimes my memory totally fades out," he says, "to the extent that I'll be driving down the highway and won't know where I'm going. Other times it works fine. Fortunately, I have enough people looking after me now."

Three weeks ago, Hopkins told Westword that he would not be seeking re-election as mayor of Victor. The decision had less to do with occasional absentmindedness than with dollars and cents, he explained. The job demands more time than he can spare, so much time that he's had little left over for managing his commercial property downtown. "I don't take on any job unless I can do my very best with it, and I couldn't give it the time it needs to do it right. I've lived with this frustration for two years."

A few days later, at the urging of his supporters, Hopkins decided to declare his candidacy after all, but he says he's "keeping the door open" and might still drop out of the race. He and the rest of the city council face a field of challengers that includes several people who have business dealings with the mine or close relatives who are employed by the mine. One of the three candidates is ex-mayor Jim Watson, who's been active in People for the West and in an unsuccessful recall campaign directed at the current council; the mine recently purchased a building he owned in downtown Victor for its new headquarters.

Hopkins says he isn't surprised that CCV has chosen to wait until after the elections to unveil its latest permit amendment. That way, he suggests, the mine can present its plans for expansion to the Mined Land Reclamation Board with what could be a hearty endorsement from a strongly pro-mining Victor city council.

"I'm not sure what we can do about that," he says. "People say, 'You have to give the mine something.' But they're taking everything. If we lose what we've got left, it's going to be Colorado's loss."

Hopkins measures the loss every time he visits the American Eagles overlook. To get there, he passes by the Vindicator Valley. In recent weeks he's noticed that certain old shacks around the camps that he's seen for years seem to be disappearing. They're small changes in the landscape, not something you'd notice unless you were looking for it.

Maybe the buildings blew over in a strong wind. Maybe someone has been out scavenging for wood. Maybe, Hopkins suggests, the mine is engaging in a little exercise in forgetfulness, knocking down buildings at night and covering them with dirt. (Komadina denies that CCV has removed any structures in the valley, which is outside the area of the mine's current operations.)

The mayor can't explain why anyone would want to take down the old buildings. "We don't know why they're doing this," he says, "unless they're just slowly but surely slipping them out so they can say, 'There's nothing there to protect.


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