Starkey Citizens for a Clean & Healthy Environment
Marcellus Watch | Peter Mantius

Twenty years ago, the roof of the largest salt mine in North America collapsed in the hamlet of Retsof, 35 miles southwest of Rochester.

Fresh water from a major aquifer above gushed in to the sprawling mine at the rate of 18,000 gallons per minute. Giant sinkholes formed, one growing to 800 hundred feet across. Highways buckled. Bridges cracked. Methane and hydrogen sulfide gases accumulated in the basements of a hotel, homes and water wells. Other wells went dry across the Genesee Valley.

The effects of the disaster linger. Last December, state regulators quietly gave up their long battle to save a second large aquifer under Livingston County that is now being permanently ruined by brine leaking from the flooded salt mine. The ground nearby continues to sink.

In the early 1990s as today regulators were complacent, non-confrontational, in the thrall of presumed corporate expertise. And why not? The Retsof mine had operated continuously for a century and had grown nearly as large as the island of Manhattan.

In response to early signs of structural trouble in 1993, mine owner AkzoNobel turned to a controversial mine support technique that only accelerated the disaster. Regulators slumbered as minor collapses led up to the big one on March 12, 1994, which registered 3.6 on the Richter scale for earthquakes.
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