Another dredge update

January 23, 2013

I received another email from the state of AK regarding the dredges. It seems these were in fact on private land and no oversight or government involvement was required to scrap them. It sounds like Tri-Mountain metals can continue scrapping historic sites if they’re all privately owned. If they want to work with the BLM in the future, as the ADN article stated, then hopefully there will be more attention paid to historic status of their targets.

Dear Mr. Emerson,

Your email was forwarded to our office following its receipt and review by the BLM Fairbanks District Office.  Upon our preliminary review, it appears that both of the dredges that you reference in your email below (F.E. Company Dredge No. 5 [AHRS #LIV-00111] and F.E. Company Dredge No. 6 [AHRS #FAI-00222]) were located on private land and privately owned.  As you point out, in 2004, the F.E. Company Dredge No. 5 was listed on the National Register, which is our Nation’s official list of historic places worthy of preservation.  We agree that the loss of these important historic properties is unfortunate.

At present, our office reviews and provides recommendations to avoid, minimize, or mitigate impacts to the State’s significant historic properties when there is a specific State or Federal action that has the potential to affect them.  If a private owner/operator takes an action, the action is located on private land, and it does not involve any Federal or State oversight, permitting, authorizations, etc., a review by our office is not required.  While we often work with private operators/landowners in an effort to protect significant sites, some may choose not to do so.

We would be happy to answer any additional questions that you may have about the State and Federal review processes that our office participates in.

Best regards,
Shina

Shina duVall, RPA
Archaeologist, Review and Compliance Coordinator
Alaska State Historic Preservation Office / Office of History and Archaeology

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Dredge scrapping updates

January 11, 2013

Here’s a quick update to yesterday’s post. After reading the Anchorage Daily News article, it seemed that the Bureau of Land Management was working with Tri Metal International to procure dredges and other mining equipment for scrap metal, as the article states “The company is also pursuing abandoned mining equipment and machinery via the Bureau of Land Management.” A poster on the AKmining forum also had the impression that the BLM owned the dredges.

I tried contacting the Fairbanks office of the BLM, but their online form was broken. Eventually I found a few email addresses and sent essentially the same thing that I posted here, CCing the main contact from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) website. Here’s what I got back, apparently the BLM was not involved in the dredge removal:

BLM_AK_FDO_GeneralDelivery to Gabe:

Mr. Emerson — Thanks for your message about the gold dredges. I talked with the archeologists in our office and learned that the two dredges in question were not on BLM-managed public lands at the time of their removal. The BLM was not involved in dismantling or removing the dredges, and we have no information on who undertook the project or why they did  so. At the archeologists’ recommendation, I am forwarding your message to Mark Rollins at the Alaska DNR Office of History and Archaeology. He may be able to shed more light on what happened.

I’m sorry you had problems using the BLM-Alaska contact page. I’ll look into that problem and get it fixed.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance. — Craig McCaa

Craig McCaa
Public Affairs Specialist
BLM Fairbanks District Office

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Paul Lusignan (NPS NRHP) to Gabe

Gabe,

You may want to direct your concerns to both the Alaska State Historic Preservation Officer and the Federal Preservation Officer for BLM.  Under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), federal agencies have to evaluate the impact of their actions on properties listed in or determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places prior to proceeding with their projects.  Federal agencies consult with the State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPO) and interested members of the public regarding the identification of historic sites and ways to mitigate or lessen the potential negative impacts of their actions.  It is not always possible to stop federal projects, but at least there is a process for considering alternatives.
It may be that BLM and the SHPO did consult on this project under the provisions of Section 106, as one of the articles did note an agreement was reached with the state to document elements of the project.   The Federal and State Preservation offices will be better able to discuss their specific actions.
Paul R. Lusignan

Historian
National Register of Historic Places
National Park Service

(Paul also included contacts for the BLM and SHPO)

So, while Tri Metal may be soliciting scrap metal sources from the BLM in the future, it appears that they sourced the two Fairbanks dredges some other way, perhaps directly from the owners? It’s still disappointing that they’re gone, and I’m still disappointed in the BLM for demolishing the Jack Wade dredge, but it doesn’t sound like they’re on a systematic dredge hunt at the moment!
I’ll be interested to hear if their archeologist has any more information, and I’m still waiting to see what else Tri Metal gets their hands on…

Scrapping History for Fun and (no) Profit

January 9, 2013

I was saddened to learn that <someone> has begun demolishing historic sites in Alaska and selling them for scrap metal. And they’re not even making a profit on it! (Update: I initially thought the Bureau of Land Management was doing this, but after emailing them, they’ve stated that they weren’t involved).

As reported in the Anchorage Daily News on November 15th of 2012, a “Test Shipment” of scrap to South Korea included “Two gold dredges from Fairbanks” (http://www.adn.com/2012/11/15/2694098/new-international-export-at-port.html)

Here’s a video version of the article released by the MatSu Borough: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLl-fPHfCKQ

As some background (click for Wikipedia article), gold dredges are large mining machines, designed to float along streams and scoop up gold-bearing gravel (placer gold). There were once 8 of them in the Fairbanks area, with this recent destruction there are only 4 remaining.

I happen to be familiar with both the dredges that were scrapped, The Fairbanks Exploration Company’s #5 and #6. Dredge Number 5 is (was?) on the National Register of Historic Places: http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NRHP/Text/04000186.pdf
Here are some photos from the National Historic Register.

Here is a historic video of #6 being moved from one mining area to another: http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg11/id/6910/rec/15

Some more recent photos on Flickr:
F.E. Co Dredge #5: http://www.flickr.com/photos/45622415@N06/sets/72157622883552541/with/4187941367/
F.E. Co Dredge #6: http://www.flickr.com/photos/45622415@N06/sets/72157622901922769/with/4195297437/

Maybe these dredges weren’t as popular or well-known as the ones you can drive right up to, but they had their share of visitors. I’ve hiked out to both of the dredges in question (I’m not sure who owned the land at the time, the trails to the dredges were not signed or marked when I visited. I did hear that someone later put up a “no trespassing” sign at Dredge #5 after it became popular with geocachers) (Update: the BLM says that they don’t own or manage the land). I enjoyed seeing these somewhat forgotten mining relics in-situ, as they were left at the end of mining work, with trees growing up through them and wildlife inhabiting the interior.  It felt like a much more authentic experience than queing up with a group of Florida tourists to visit some sanitized, OSHA-approved, restored commercial attraction (No offense to the owners of Dredge #8, but I always preferred the rusty abandoned dredges and never got around to visiting their touristy one). I particularly liked the journals of dredge movements, weather, and other comments written on the interior walls with chalk by workers in the 1930s. All of which is gone now. It isn’t even a win for the environment, looking at recent aerial photos, I see that whoever pulled the dredges out bulldozed their way through and generally tore up the areas, leaving landscapes that look more like a gravel pit than the quiet 2nd-growth forest that used to surround these machines.

before-after
Dredge #5 site before and after. Click for full size.

Here’s one of my own photos of #5:

Here is another another article about the BLM’s destruction of a dredge near Chicken in 2007, Apparently it wasn’t safe enough to leave just lying around, someone could need a tetanus shot just from looking at it! Plus, without gift shops, these abandoned dredges clearly aren’t doing anything useful for the economy. The Jack Wade dredge at Chicken was listed in the Historic American Buildings Survey / Historic American Engineering Record: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/hh/item/ak0198/

Here is some local discussion of the destroyed Fairbanks dredges. Unfortunately, some of the photo links don’t work.
http://www.akmining.com/forums/showthread.php/1749-Another-One-Bites-The-Dust?s=312222970e925115bbd86194e425b141

It’s depressing to think that these historic landmarks have no value other than as scrap. In fact, they barely have any scrap value at all, as the ADN mentions that they were destroyed and sold at a loss, just to see if it’s feasible to transport something on a ship from one place to another (hint: I’m pretty sure people have been doing that for a couple centuries now).

“Working on the effort nearly 2.5 years, Syed Hussain is a managing partner of Tri Metal International LLC. Two international buyers of scrap metal for Japan and South Korea traveled to Port MacKenzie Saturday to observe the loading effort, and were very pleased, Hussain said. Breaking into the global competition has had its hurdles, he said. He said he is losing money on this shipment just to prove to the scrap industry that it can be done.” (From Anchorage Daily News)

The ADN article goes on to state that Tri Metal International is working with the BLM to acquire more “abandoned mining equipment and machinery”. I have to wonder what historic properties they’ll set their eyes on next? Maybe they could just go through the National Historic Register and use it as a hit list, I see a few properties on there that are probably rich in scrap metal! Maybe Nome’s iconic ghost train, or the giant Igloo hotel in Igloo City, or all those rusty mini-submarines and artillery cannons the Japanese left in the Aleutians. Sure, people like to take pictures of those things, but none of them are on OSHA-approved museum-curated tour routes with gift shops and quick bus access to cruise ships, so they’d probably be more valuable as scrap exports, right? (I think the Igloo is mostly cement, but maybe someone could crush it up and use it to fill potholes or something).

(Original post updated based on info received from the BLM and National Park Service)