There is a reason for it

The Dickinson County Board of Commissioners may have helped prevent a tragedy this week.

The board approved increasing additional hours for County Mine Inspector Steve Smith to help improve the safety at abandoned mines in the area.

Performed properly, the task is too big for Smith’s 150-hour yearly cap.

The 40 additional hours will help, but even that will not secure every old mine site in the county. There are some 80 abandoned mining properties in Dickinson County.

Some are very dangerous.

Pewabic Mine pit on Iron Mountain’s east side is one. In the recent past, it has taken two lives – one in August 2006, and another in May 1990.

The problem with Pewabic Mine is its location and accessibility. It’s located within Iron Mountain city limits, and the fencing around the deep pit is old and in disrepair, making it easy for the curious and unwary to wander too close.

Approval for the additional 40 hours for Smith was a compromise.

Smith’s hours are capped at 150 per year, but he told the board this week that he has only a handful of hours remaining in 2013 with many tasks unfinished.

“I have seven different mines in the fire,” he said. Smith said that following up with property owners on fencing deficiencies is a top priority.

He was seeking an additional 100 hours to do the job, but that was rejected.

As established by the board in May 2012, the mine inspector was to be paid $27.08 per hour in 2013, with a maximum of 150 hours, or $4,062 for the year.

Previously, the mine inspector’s salary had been set at $10,838 annually. The former mine inspector, Todd Jastremski, who did not seek re-election, had said he was spending about 250 to 300 hours per year on the job.

The county finally agreed to the 40 additional hours for Smith.

Abandoned mining property sites around Dickinson County can include a mixture of open pits, shafts and cave-ins.

Depths of these mines can range from 400 feet to more than 1,500 feet.

While the fencing may be in question, most of the bigger property owners have made it clear that individuals are not supposed to be on the property.

Some of the fencing dates back to the 1970s and 1980s and does not meet today’s standards, but most times, there are no trespassing signs posted.

That may not be the case on some of the smaller parcels of land that were mined. They may not marked very well, if at all.

The problem arises with public awareness.

Since mining has long since ended in the area, many area residents may not be aware of the dangers.

One must realize that much of Iron Mountain, Vulcan, Iron River and Norway were built over mining areas, and those shafts are still there.

The peak years for excavating iron ore from the area was a 30-year span between 1890 and 1920.

In the 1930s, underground mines began closing down.

The last underground mine to close in the area was the East Vulcan Mine (near the Iron Mountain Iron Mine tourist attraction) in 1945.

Until Smith can complete his job, area residents should remember to respect these areas.

If there is a fence, there’s for a reason for it.

And trespassers can be prosecuted.