Meeting on shuttered Empire Mine tunnel tour Tuesday

Local supporters of the halted Empire Mine tourist tunnel will decide Tuesday how to go forward now that the project has been “permanently” shelved.

Larry Skinner, board president of the Empire Mine State Park Association, said the decision is expected during a closed session at the association’s regular board meeting.

The association currently is in negotiations with the California Department of Parks and Recreation on possible alternative uses for the equipment and facilities already built over the last decade in what was to be a spectacular new tourist attraction at the popular Empire Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley.

The state has control of the project, but the park association rallied and organized community volunteer support in its construction.

The state Parks and Recreation Department in October said it would stop funding for any more work on the tunnel project, which has already cost more than $3.5 million. On Feb. 4, the state released an update to its stop-funding announcement with the word “permanently” added.

According to recent published reports, the project was axed for safety reasons. The Union reported in December that some of the steel bracing in the tunnel was deteriorating, raising concerns about the cost of fixing or replacing the beams to make the tunnel safe for visitors.

“This is a sad ending to a dream held by a lot of people,” Skinner said in a position paper last week. “It is also an enormous loss to not only the community and the park system, but also to the taxpayers of the state of California.”

He said the board extends its thanks to “all the volunteers who contributed their valuable personal time and skills to help build this project and to plan the eventual ‘operation’ of the tour that will never happen.”

Skinner also expressed a hope that the “Grass Valley/Nevada City community will continue to support their local parks and put Sacramento’s ‘adit closure’ decision behind them,” he said. Adit is the word for the 850-foot-long horizontal tunnel that was to have provided visitors with an actual touring experience of a gold mining operation. Empire Mine, in its heyday during the Gold Rush, was the richest gold mine in the state and is a central part of Nevada County history and culture.

Facilities built on the project now include:

— An 850-foot-long tunnel, complete with tracks, three interpretive niches and utilities hookups.

— Three 1950-era battery-powered “locos” and four 10-person cars that were to transport up to 240 visitors per day through the tunnel.

— A tour center stocked with hard hats, raincoats and head lamps for visitors.

— A 1,064-square-foot maintenance building.

— A utilities building to house generators, ventilators and compressors.

— A new double vault restroom.

Contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner at kbrenner@theunion.com or by phone at 530-477-4239.


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The Union Updated Feb 18, 2014 11:20AM Published Feb 19, 2014 02:46PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.