Nevada’s Comstock Merger Mill: Subject to Destruction

Reno/Tahoe locals have taken a stance in the attempt to stop the Bureau of Land Manaement’s (BLM) spenditure of $4 million towards the complete and total demolition of what’s left of the Comstock Mill at the American Flat.

The Comstock Mill was the largest concrete mill in the U.S., producing $7.5 million worth of silver in 1922. It now serves as a landmark representing our state’s history, as well as an artistic outlet.

An online petition has been started to save the Comstock Mill with currently one hundred thirty-three supporters.

“The BLM first decided to tear down the mill in 2010, but withdrew its decision amid concern it had failed to follow proper historic preservation procedures,” according to Jeff Delong, who wrote about the issue in the Reno Gazette Journal in April 2013.

“The full legal investigation can be found in the official examination which you can see at the United Comstock Merger Mill at American Flat Final Environmental Assessment,” said Pamela Collins, a front desk operator from the BLM’s Information Access Center.

The multiple alternatives proposed in the BLM’s Environmental Assessment include a no action alternative, minimal physical action taken to reduce public safety hazards, and selected building retention.

“Our office submitted an official proposal to preserve the mill as a valuable and appreciated resource while also addressing safety issues at an estimated $2 million,” said Kathryn Kochen, an assistant at the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office, “That’s half the amount that it would take to destroy the site completely.”

However, BLM officials push that the mill is far too dangerous to keep standing due the site’s popularity for nighttime drinking parties, paintball battles, practiced rappelling, and graffiti vandalism.

The mill was officially closed to the public in 1997. Despite fencing and limited road access done by the BLM since then, the Comstock Mill is still visited frequently.

Potential safety hazards assessed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in the BLM’s Environmental Assessment include, “Falls from heights greater than 30 feet; drowning hazards; confined space; unexpected drop-offs; exposed sharp edges; and limited vertical clearances.”

“The site is simply too much of a liability. People have died,” said Storey County Sheriff, Gerald Antinoro, “We catch graffiti vandals on a regular basis and the general public that visits the site puts themselves at a high risk for severe injuries.”

Despite all of the dangerous aspects of the mill, many up-and-coming photographers take artistic photographs at the mill. Furthermore, the mill has become a tourist attraction where artists travel from around the world to appreciate and express graffiti art.

“The Flats are the only place of their kind in the country that is publicly recognized beyond graffiti writers,” said a graffiti artist who chooses to stay anonymous. “The artwork found there is remarkable.  It would be a huge disservice to tear down one of the only representations of art culture in the whole state.”

Project funding and a schedule for demolition and reclamation of the mill site have not been determined. In order to address concerns, the BLM plans to create a website showcasing the site’s history and artistic relevance before it is torn down.

 

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