A claim that an old gold mine near Second Crossing could be an environmental hazard during a closure was dismissed by a Forest Service official as "a bit of a stretch" Monday.
Pat Johnson, president of the Whispering Pines Neighborhood Association and unofficial spokesperson for the affected residents, explained the premise.
"If they have to dam up the road to keep water from flowing down during the construction period, it's going to flood that gold mine, and you know what they used to mine gold with back in the 1800s -- arsenic," Johnson said.
The only problem with that theory is that no gold was ever mined there according to Rod Byers, Payson Ranger District lands and minerals staff officer.
"There was a gold mine there," Byers admitted. "The guy that put that water wheel in (at Water Wheel Campground) had it made up (built) down in Phoenix and brought up. Then he strung a flume around the hill to run it (the water) upstream in order to run the thing (the water wheel), and that was to produce electricity.
"He (the miner) was kind of squatting there on the pretext that he was mining gold, but there was never anything mined."
Johnson said she intends to contact the state mining inspector to pursue the matter, and said the Sierra Club has also been contacted regarding possible environmental problems associated with a closure.
Byers, meanwhile, announced that Payson Ranger District Head Ranger Ed Armenta met with Tonto National Forest Supervisor Karl Siderits on Friday to discuss the project. The final decision was placed in Siderits' hands after U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi intervened on behalf of the residents of Whispering Pines and other communities east of the crossing.
"Ed talked to Siderits and they talked on the phone with the county," Byers said. Houston Mesa Road will be open Monday, and the Forest Service will provide a minimum of 72 hours notice before closing the crossing down, Byers said.
Byers said there is still time to squeeze the project in before winter weather makes it unfeasible.
"If we get pushed back a little bit it could still be done, but we may have to amend the contract by requiring the concrete to be cured," he said.
The Payson Ranger District planned to close Houston Mesa Road at the crossing for six weeks beginning Oct. 18 to replace a deteriorating concrete apron with a "vented ford" (or culverted) crossing, but a last-minute reprieve on Oct. 15 delayed the project.
If the plan is implemented, the only access to and from communities east of the crossing will be the Control Road (FR64) -- a dirt road that can be dangerous, especially when wet or covered with snow.
Besides Whispering Pines, communities that will be affected if the road is closed at Second Crossing include Bonita Creek, Rim Trail, Cowan Ranch, Verde Glen and Cold Springs Ranch.