Though a reclamation permit issued by the state decades ago calls for the demolition of the historic Pandora Mill at the east end of the Telluride Valley, and Newmont Mining Corporation (the parent company of Idarado) has a demolition permit for the structure from both the state and San Miguel County, the mining company and the county are looking for a way to avoid tearing down the old mill in favor of preserving it. 

The Pandora Mill was constructed in 1921 to process the gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc ore mined in the high country above Telluride, and remains one of the last standing and most significant structures from the mining era. To keep it standing, Newmont and the county must overcome two major obstacles: the state reclamation permit that calls for Pandora’s demolition, and a way to fund the restoration and continued maintenance of the 75,000-square-foot building. 

A Newmont manager came up with a solution to the former obstacle — excepting the mill and the land it sits on from the reclamation permit. The state would have to sign off on that exemption, and, according to San Miguel County Open Space and Recreation Director Linda Luther-Broderick, state officials have indicated they’d be willing to discuss the exemption, as long as certain conditions are met. 

For funding, the San Miguel County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday tentatively agreed to fund the historical stabilization process with $100,000 in both of the next two years and $50,000 in the third year. Newmont has indicated it would be willing to spend at least a portion of what it would cost to demolish the building on historical stabilization (estimates show demolition could cost more than $1 million). But a third party would likely have to take on management of the facility after stabilization work was complete.

“It really is one of the last mills standing. Historically it’s important, and that’s why we’re committed to try and make it work,” Larry Fiske, director of legacy sites for Newmont, said. 

The mill was scheduled to be demolished in 2013, after Newmont completed a multi-million dollar asbestos abatement at the site, but that was delayed in order to give individuals and the county an opportunity to work on a plan for its preservation. 

“[The mill] is a huge liability for Newmont, and that would basically all go away if we demolish it, and that takes little effort,” Fiske added. “The hard thing is to figure out how to save it, and we’re willing to work to see that through if it’s possible.”

Luther-Broderick said representatives from the county, state and Newmont were planning a meeting for January or February to discuss further how historic stabilization of the Pandora Mill might be accomplished. 

“A decision has to be made on this building sooner rather than later, and if we don’t make a decision, the building will make the decision for us,” she said. The asbestos abatement in 2013 left a gap between the roof and supporting beams that allows winds to get into the structure and possibly destabilize it. “All we’re talking about right now is historic stabilization, and all that means is doing the necessary repairs so that it’s safe for the public and for the Idarado personnel that still work in that area.”

After any stabilization work is complete, Newmont would remain the owner of the property, but would likely partner with a third party to manage the historic structure. Kiernan Lannon, executive director of the Telluride Historical Museum, said the museum has had no official involvement with the project to date, but that it has a meeting scheduled with Luther-Broderick early next year to discuss the Pandora Mill. 

“We’ve offered to support the county in any way we can,” Lannon said. “We think it’s a structure that’s significant and definitely worth saving. We don’t know to what extent or what role we’ll play, but it’s too unique a structure, it’s too much of an example of that type of mining architecture.… It needs to be preserved.”