Metals-mining industry set for growth in northwestern Nevada

The last time that the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology published its review of the major mines in Nevada, only a handful were listed in the northwest corner of the state.

And none of those mines in Washoe, Lyon, Douglas and Storey counties were producing the metals gold, silver, copper that are driving the state's mining boom today.

Instead, fives mines in the region employed a total of about 250 people who dug industrial minerals such as gypsum, diatomite and limestone from the earth.

That's likely to be changing over the next five years.

At least one major copper mine is progressing toward reality in the Yerington area, and a gold mining company hopes to overcome neighbors' concerns to return mining to the Comstock Lode at Virginia City.

Employment is beginning to edge up slowly as the continued strength in metals prices encourages investors to forge ahead with the projects in northwest Nevada.

But the biggest potential growth in employment still lies several years in the future, mining executives told members of the Northern Nevada Development Authority in Dayton last week.

Nevada Copper Corp., for instance, expects to hire a relatively small number of workers as it begins to sink shafts into two underground deposits about eight miles southeast of Yerington.

But Timothy Dyhr, the company's vice president of environmental and external affairs, says similar-sized mining operations typically employ 300 to 400 once they're completely up to speed. The company expects to reach full production at the property dubbed "Pumpkin Hollow" in about five years.

Those jobs, he said, will be particularly welcome in hard-hit Lyon County.

"We can bring the unemployment rate down, and the sales tax collections up," Dyhr said.

The company estimates that the property contains about 6 billion pounds of copper, at least 1.6 million ounces of gold and 42 million ounces of silver.

In the Virginia City area, meanwhile, Comstock Mining Inc. hopes to begin mining one of two apparently promising deposits one of them three miles south of Virginia City, the other about six miles south of Virginia City.

Some residents of Gold Hill and Silver City, however, are telling officials in Storey and Lyon counties that the company's plans would spoil their neighborhoods.

Corrado De Gasperis, president and chief executive officer of publicly held Comstock Mining Inc., said the company has relatively modest mining plans maybe 20,000 ounces of gold to start.

But he said that Comstock Mining hopes to combine its mining operations with a tourism and educational unit that targets visitors interested in the history of Virginia City. The company recently purchased the Gold Hill Hotel as an element of that plan.

Comstock Mining also might get into the business of minting coins from the gold it produces.

"The demand for that seems to be growing," De Gasperis said.

And yet another business explored by the company, he said, is creation of an investment vehicle that would allow investors to own physical gold and silver. That business, he said, would take advantage of the strong brand identity that surrounds the word "Comstock."

Both the mining projects in northwest Nevada are able to move fairly quickly because of the amount of exploration data accumulated in the past.

Dyhr noted that the Pumpkin Hollow copper deposits, for instance, were discovered about 50 years ago. Several exploration projects have created boxes of data.

"We're like the car buff who found the great old Packard in the barn," he said.

That's true in the Comstock, as well, after one of the greatest mining booms in American history produced 8 million ounces of gold and more than 200 million ounces of silver in the 1800s.

Even so, De Gasperis said the use of current exploration technology holds promise in the Comstock.

"By any modern definition, it's under-explored," he said.

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