Eagle Mountain, CA
Ghost Town - Or - A Renewable Energy Site
The remains of Eagle Mountain, California lie 13 miles north of Desert Center. Now just a fenced off ghost town, it's slowly decaying, frequented only by the small security staff that watches over it. The only building still in use is the Eagle Mountain School, located outside the fenced area, which provides education for children in the locale.
In 1948 Henry Kaiser opened the Eagle Mountain iron ore mine here, which would become Southern California's largest iron mine. A rail line moved the ore to the Fontana California Iron Works for processing. Homes and a town were built to serve the numerous workers at the mine.
At the height of mining production, Eagle Mountain had a population of 4,000, many living in over 400 homes in the town. Mobile homes and trailer parks also served as housing.
In 1981, after 35 years of production, Kaiser Corporation closed its mining operation. As the main source of income in the town dried up, most of the population left. Eagle Mountain's last store closed in 1982, and then the Post Office as well, in 1983.
A few attempts were made to bring the town back to life. In 1986 the Department of Corrections converted a shopping center in the town into a private prison for low risk inmates. It operated from 1991 to 2003, providing income for the locals.
After the prison closed, the town emptied out again as there was no employer to pay a wage.
In 1989 Kaiser Ventures, the successor to Kaiser Steel, proposed to turn the open pit mine into a sanitary landfill. Garbage would be shipped in on the rail line from Fontana to Eagle Mountain. Many disapproved of the idea of garbage disposal right next to Joshua Tree National Park however, so the lawsuits began. In 2011, the lawsuits were still proceeding, but the plan was dropped by the landfill owners – effectively ending the landfill proposal.
The railroad ties and rails were pulled up and sold for recycling; all that remains now is the old bed for the tracks.
In 2015 Eagle Crest Energy Company purchased the rights to the old pit mines. The company proposes to use the old Kaiser mining pits for a $2 billion hydropower project that would boost renewable energy use in Southern California and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Eagle Crest would build an upper lake and a lower reservoir in the mine pits. Pumping water to the upper lake in the day, then letting the water flow back at night would generate electricity.
The plans have been approved but no work has started at the site as of May 2019. With construction still years away, the license lapsed at the end of June 1918. Eagle Crest will have to seek a new license, which may trigger an additional environmental review. Environmentalists fear the company's plans to use well water to fill the lakes will impact the groundwater in the area, endangering the unique plants and wildlife in Joshua Tree National Park.
Meanwhile the wind still whistles through the empty streets of Eagle Mountain.
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