Gerlach Is Going Turn Into A Ghost Town

December 4, 2010 at 1:24 am Leave a comment

It looks like the city of Gerlach is going to fall on hard times as stated in the following excerpt of an article from the Reno Gazette Journal

The company-owned town of Empire will go quiet after 87 years when USG Corp. halts its gypsum mine and wallboard manufacturing operations in January.

Officials say the move, putting 92 people out of work in the town 100 miles north of Reno, is considered an “indefinite idling.” It’s possible the plant will reopen, if and when the ailing construction industry recovers

But the ripple effect of the closure could extend beyond the 300 people — employees of USG and their families — who live in company-owned apartments and single-family homes in Empire. The area, including nearby Gerlach, is a launching point from Nevada 447 for the tens of thousands of participants in the annual Burning Man festival in the BlackRockDesert.

USG’s plant manager, Mike Spihlman, said the last day for employees, who were notified Thursday morning, will be Jan. 31. Along with unspecified severance, they will be allowed to reside in Empire until June 20.

“With the few interactions I’ve had so far, everyone’s been very professional about it,” he said.

The company operates a swimming pool, recreational facilities and a 9-hole golf course in Empire. There are also two churches, a post office and the Empire Store on Nevada 447.

Spihlman himself is unsure about the future for his own family, including two young daughters who attend grade school in Gerlach several miles up the highway.

“It’s early in the process,” he said. “We’ve got to take time to see what our opportunities are.”

According to the WashoeCountySchool District website, 43 students are enrolled in grades 7 to 12 at GerlachHigh School and 29 at ErnestJohnsonElementary School in Gerlach.

School district officials could not be reached Thursday for comment on the potential loss in enrollment.

Gypsum mining first began in the area in 1923, and since 1948, USG Corp., also known as United States Gypsum, has operated a mine six miles outside of town and trucked the ore in for crushing and processing for plaster and making drywall for sale across the West. Its product was used in the green walls at Aces Ballpark.

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But the collapse of the nation’s housing market has taken a toll on demand, Spihlman said, leading to the Chicago-based company’s decision to stop operations at Empire.

“That’s our big market,” Spihlman said of residential wallboard products. “It’s unfortunate.”

Empire is one of 16 gypsum mines USG operates in North America. Mark Joseph, senior manager for corporate communications, said there is no time frame for when the company would, if ever, restart the Empire operations.

“We want to keep up with the permits and keep up the grounds, so if there is a turn-the-switch-back-on, we can do it,” he said. “But there’s been no decision on that.”

University of Nevada, Reno economist Elliott Parker said halting the Empire operation is “one more piece of bad news” for Nevada’s economy.

The state leads the U.S. with a 14.2 percent jobless rate as of October, and construction job losses are the single biggest driver.

State employment data show the Reno-Sparks area lost 35,600 jobs from 2005 to 2010. And the region has seen a 24 percent decrease in construction jobs since August 2009, according to the Nevada chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America.

Parker said the Empire-Gerlach area could wither in an evolution that has played out before in the West”

It is sad to see more jobs vanish away like the wind. It seems that jobs are things that are dying away.

It means that a beautiful and isolated part of the West will become eventually uninhibited. The town of Gerlach will slowly died away and will become a ghost town.

What will have the mine closure’s impact on BurningMan. At this time, a person cannot make a definitive conclusion upon the impact on BurningMan. The most foreseeable impact on Burning Man is that it will very difficult to obtain emergency supplies. To obtain emergency supplies and fuel, one needs to drive down to Fernely now.

There will be no more lodging in Gerlach. In the off-season, it will be more difficult to visit the springs because there is no infrastructure such as motel and hotels to accodomate any tourist travel.

My prediction is that Burning Man will stay in the same location, but it will more difficult to obtain emergency supplies and fuel to the event. The conditions of the road will start to deteriorate because the state of Nevada will no longer maintain the highway anymore because there is no more population that lives out there.

The lack of maintenance on the subject road could kill the future viability of the Burning Man. However, the subject thinking is at best, just is speculation. We have no idea what will happen with the event or potential impact of the mine closure to BurningMan.

Ultimately, our benevolent dictator, Larry Harvey, who is founder of Burning Man, gets make the final decision whether the event is moved away to a new location or whether it finally canceled.

Therefore, speculation about the impact of the mine closure on Burning Man is just useless, but fodder for discussion in blogs and forums.

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