October 17, 2016

Photo Essay: Taking a Toxic Spin Around Three Kids Mine

You might think that the city of Henderson, Nevada exists because it's a suburb of Las Vegas. And while that may have contributed to its continuing success, the reason it was ever formed in the first place was its natural supply of magnesium.

In the 1940s, magnesium turned out to be a "miracle metal" for wartime manufacturing that attempted to match Germany’s lighter planes and more powerful bombs.

The Basic Magnesium Plant (BMI) has gone down in history as taking the credit for helping the Allies win World War II, but you can't forget another of Henderson's magnesium resources: Manganese One Plant, a.k.a. "Three Kids Mine."

Despite the fact that it was active during three different periods of military activity over the course of more than 40 years from 1916 to 1962—spanning the first and second World Wars as well as the Korean War and early Cold War—the 1200 acres of this open pit manganese mine and mill site has been left to languish.

By 1961, the City of Henderson had been incorporated for about eight years, after the U.S. Government had tried to sell off the entire town as military surplus.

Henderson didn't really need the magnesium anymore, so the mine and mill were closed in 1962.

Most of its rich ore was gone by then anyway. In fact, 40 percent of it had been depleted by 1919.

But that was nearly 55 years ago. So why does it still stand there, used for an illegal dumping ground?

Well, the government actually was using this site to store ore until 2003. So, for over a decade, taggers and trespassers have made this abandoned site of beautiful decay their own.

But in 2012, the Three Kids Mine became the worst-kept secret of the greater Vegas area when street artist Aware decided to paint one of the circular "thickener" pits over the course of three days.

The result? The "Wheel of Misfortune."

Aware doesn't limit himself to graffiti—he's also the guy responsible for, ahem, erecting those naked statues of Donald Trump in New York City's Union Square and LA's Los Feliz neighborhood, among other places, during the 2016 Presidential Election.

If nothing else, it brought some attention to a neglected and heavily contaminated area...

...but it also brought visitors perhaps unprepared for the perils that lie ahead—including three giant open pits, up to 300 feet deep, and full of a lot of discarded whatevers.

In addition to broken concrete and rusted metal, at the Three Kids Mine site today you'll also find enough lead to poison you, diesel fuel, and arsenic in big "waste rock piles."

The site was actually cleared for cleanup and redevelopment in 2014, with a plan to build a housing development of 6000 homes called Lakemoor Canyon.

At least, that was the plan back in 2008: to "eliminate and mitigate environmental hazards" and to  "eliminate and prevent the spread of blight and deterioration."

The entire area is actually owned by multiple parties, including the BLM and the neighboring boat storage facility. According to the BLM, "No viable former operator or responsible party has been identified to remediate and reclaim the abandoned mine and mill site."

In short, the governmental organization considers the Three Kids Mine site a "problem" that needs to be solved.

But nothing seems to have happened with it since 2015, when seemingly all timelines come to a screeching halt. So in the meantime, that means more people can try their luck on the Wheel of Misfortune and enjoy the delicious abandonment while they can.

Here's the official video of the guerrilla art piece being created:

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Photo Essay: Visiting the Largest Borax Mine in the World
Photo Essay: Searles Valley Minerals Plant Tour, Trona

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