Mining has returned to Nevada’s historic Comstock more than 150 years after the discovery of one of the world’s richest silver veins touched off a frenzy that drew thousands of people west.
But unlike the hard rock miners in the 1800s, the modern day operation involves huge trucks that haul ore from a pit mine near Virginia City to a nearby processing site.
Comstock Mining Inc. began active operations Wednesday, using seven semi-trucks to haul ore from the Lucerne pit mine at Storey County’s Gold Hill to the company’s processing site 2.6 miles away at American Flat, the Reno Gazette-Journal (http://on.rgj.com/QPOXaW ) reported.
The company hopes to begin pouring gold and silver by mid-September. Corrado De Gasperis, president and chief executive officer of Comstock Mining, said the company’s revised estimates put identified mineral values at nearly $5 billion.
Opponents pledged to keep fighting the mining activity that they say threatens public safety, the environment and one of the nation’s most precious historic sites.
“We’re not going anywhere,” said Robin Cobbey of the Comstock Residents Association. “We will continue our efforts to protect this landmark and the health and safety of the public in any way we can.”
About a mile of the haul route is on Nevada 342. Critics say it poses a threat to public safety but mining company representatives say it will have minimal impact.
Trucks were re-routed to the highway due to a dispute between Comstock Mining and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over ownership of a parcel of land that is part of an off-highway haul road. Mining company representatives said they are confident all hauling will be routed away from the highway in six to eight months.
Since 2003, Comstock Mining acquired property and mining claims across more than 6,000 acres of the Comstock in what the company describes as an “unprecedented consolidation” of mineral resources. Wednesday’s startup in Storey County is expected to be followed by mining at nearby Silver City in Lyon County, with that activity possible by late 2014, De Gasperis said.
Test drilling conducted by Comstock Mining has revealed gold or silver at virtually every location sampled — some of it highly pure, De Gasperis said.
“We’re literally hitting on almost every hole,” De Gasperis told the newspaper. “What we do know is that there is a tremendous amount of gold and silver. We feel like we’re just scratching the surface, honestly.”
Project opponents remain highly critical of both the mining company and Storey County officials who they say are bending over backward to accommodate the company’s needs. Division over the project is made clear by signs posted throughout Gold Hill and Silver City. Some read “Stop open pit mining,” others “Mining works for Nevada.”
“Just because it’s mining doesn’t mean it’s good for economic development in this area,” said Joe McCarthy, also of the Comstock Residents Association.
Comstock Mining’s plans could come at huge cost, potentially changing the face of a hugely important historic area forever and damaging a tourism-dependent economy, McCarthy said.
“It could effectively obliterate something that’s very precious to our landscape,” McCarthy said. “It’s the same old bad-tasting wine Nevada has always had to drink but now it’s in a new shiny bottle.”
Environmental dangers are associated with historic mining in the area, which led to the area’s designation as Nevada’s only Superfund site, McCarthy said, adding that the operation’s proximity to so many people poses special concerns.
“It’s a Superfund site, it’s a national landmark and it’s home to hundreds of residents and businesses,” he said.
De Gasperis insists concerns over such issues as mercury contamination from historic mining are overblown by critics and that results of $2 million worth of testing conducted by the company and submitted to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection indicate no such danger.
He said one of the company’s long-term plans is to restore historic mining structures in the Comstock now crumbling due to neglect.
Comstock’s mining activities, which could last decades, could profoundly improve the economies of Storey and Lyon counties and provide big benefits to the Reno area, as well, De Gasperis said.
“It’s literally the resurgence of economic prosperity,” he said.
Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com