City of Bisbee takes measures to keep mine tour guides safe

Published: Aug. 13, 2013 at 2:47 AM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 4:15 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A piece of Southern Arizona history is on the chopping block. The Queen Mine tours could close in about two months because of safety concerns. Now, the city of Bisbee is taking measures to keep its workers safe and fix the problem.

It's one of the biggest attractions in Southern Arizona. Last year alone, it attracted 43,000 visitors. But, because of unsafe radon levels, the company that owns the land wants to end all tours.

Bisbee mayor, Adriana Badal asked the owners of the land, Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold not to end the lease and instead work with the city on fixing the problem.

"This is not only our biggest tourist attraction, it's part of our identity in Bisbee and in the state and country," Badal said.

The issue came to light in June after samples of radon six times higher than normal were detected. Tour guides spend about four hours a day inside the mines giving tours. They are the ones most at risk. Mayor Badal says the city is limiting their time in half.

"It doesn't mean we're going to reduce the number of tours. That just means our employees aren't going to go in as often as a daily basis," Badal said.

Badal tells Tucson News Now she wants more tests done. She says Bisbee had a wet June and that's why radon levels tested so high.

"We have had a lot of rain. When they continue to do their assessments and monitoring they will see those levels have gone down," Badal said.

In the meantime, they'll work to ventilate the inside and continue giving tours. Last year, the mine tours and gift shop raked in $568,000. That money, the city says, stays within the mine and is used for operations.

But some businessmen and women are concerned. "There's a lot of shops and galleries in town but if the mine tour goes away, it's really, going to impact a lot," said Laurie Britt, a bartender at Bisbee Grand Hotel & Saloon. "That's also a lot of money for the city."

"I think Bisbee without the mine tour, people still come to Bisbee. I doubt anybody sitting in their kitchen in Phoenix say, 'I want to go to Bisbee this weekend. I'm not going if I can't get down that mine.'"

The city will stop giving tours 60 days after getting the notice. They're expecting to get that notice sometime this week.

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