Wells readies for growth from mine

Wells is poised to become Nevada's next boomtown.

Residents of the small community 50 miles east of Elko are eyeing the opening of Newmont Mining Corporation's Long Canyon mine in the nearby Pequop Mountains with eager anticipation. Among the mine's projected benefits to Well's 1,400 residents: increased employment opportunities and an influx of new businesses providing much-needed goods and services.

Newmont purchased the Long Canyon property from Fronteer Gold in 2011 for $2.3 billion a clear indication of Newmont's thoughts on the property's potential as a gold mine. Newmont expects the mine to be in production by 2017, and construction of mining facilities is expected to start in a few years, says Dan Anderson, a former Fronteer executive who now works as regional environmental affairs manager for Newmont. Both the construction and production phases are expected to employ between 300 and 500 workers, with a mine life of eight to 10 years under currently defined ore reserves.

Many of those new workers are expected to call Wells home and will either rent rooms by the month in one of the town's small motel properties or park a trailer at one of its RV parks. That's just fine with Stephen Wright, owner of the Angel Lake RV Park.

Wright, 81, built the park seven years ago. He expects occupancy to be at full capacity 48 spaces just like it was for nine months when workmen for the Ruby Pipeline came through northeastern Nevada from October of 2010 through June 2011.

"Even right now we have drillers in here," Wright says. "It is a great thing. A lot of people are going to say it isn't, but I am a businessman, and I have to say that it will be a boost to the community. It is going to bring other stores into town, and we need competition here."

Retail offerings are limited in Wells. Currently, the town is served by locally owned Roy's Market and a Family Dollar store.

Investors have begun buying land in anticipation of growth in Wells.

Paul Bottari, co-owner owner of Bottari Realty with his wife, Lori, says that parcels of vacant land within city limits have been selling quickly over the past six months as investors snap up land that's sure see a price spike once construction of the mine begins. Lots within city limits range in size from 8,600 to 12,000 square feet and cost between $15,000 to $20,000 depending on location and availability of utility hookups.

"These lots are relatively cheap, and that's going to be the first thing people are looking for," he says.

Wells can accommodate about 1,000 additional residents with its current sewer and water capacity, Bottari says. Raw land in the surrounding valleys has yet to see a real spike in price, Bottari notes. Land in the greater Wells vicinity can be found for about $12,000 an acre, and some parcels are even selling for as little as $7,200 an acre.

"Somebody right now could buy land that's near water and sewer that could be developed for $7,200 an acre that's unheard of," he says. "We have quite a bit of private land around town, and if we needed more public land it has been identified for disposal."

Wells is strategically located about a maximum drive of 700 miles from nearly every major city in the West, Bottari adds. Development of the mine, coupled with the addition of a few mining service providers and availability of low-cost land, could lead to transportation and warehousing firms giving Wells a closer look.

One of the mine's benefits, residents say, is that it will provide local employment opportunities for the town's youth. A common complaint is that young men growing up in Wells must leave town to find good-paying jobs with benefits.

"When they graduate from high school they will be able to get an excellent job and stay around family and in the community," says Lori Bottari. "They won't have to go outside the community for work."

Bill Rodriguez, owner of Four Way Casino at I-80 and Highway 93, knows a little about staying in the community.

Rodriguez started working at the Four Way as a dishwasher and bought the property 30 years ago. Today the restaurant and casino has about 100 workers and is Well's largest employer.

The construction phase of the mine would bring a much-needed payroll into town, Rodriguez says. Workers for the Ruby Pipeline led to a 50 percent rise in revenue, he says, but overall gaming revenue has fallen sharply since 2008 as residents and travelers along Interstate curtailed spending.

Along with Wells, new residents also are expected to find housing in West Wendover, Elko and smaller communities in the region. The Long Canyon Mine lies about halfway between Wells and West Wendover.

An influx of people and businesses wouldn't detract from the quality of life in Wells, residents say. In fact, they say, growth would benefit everyone because an increase in population could convince some national retailers that expanding to Wells would be economically viable. Currently, residents must do their retail shopping in Elko, Salt Lake City, Twin Falls, Idaho or Reno.

"Most people know we need some growth here before we get some more commercial services," Paul Bottari says. "We don't have a lot of things this community would like. Until you get more people you are not going to have it. We are lucky to have Burger King, McDonald's, Subway and Quiznos. We really don't fit their numbers criteria the only reason we do is because of the interstate."

Adds Lori Bottari: "We have the quality of life. We have the mountains, there is plenty of BLM land for everyone to enjoy. We have farming and ranching and tourism. With the mine we will have business growth and more options, and I don't think it is going to take away from the quality of life."

New workers who do take up residence in town will be high-wage earners with ample disposable income, adds John Cole, process manager for Newmont. Another benefit: Long Canyon is an Elko County mine, notes Mary Korpi, Newmont's director of external communications, meaning tax proceeds from gold produced at the mine stay in Elko County. The state's largest mines on the Carlin Trend are located in Eureka County.


So what is the Long Canyon Mine?

Fronteer Gold began exploring the Long Canyon area on the eastern flanks of the Pequop Mountains 30 miles east of Wells in the mid 2000s, and in 2011 Newmont Mining Corp. purchased the property from Fronteer for $2.3 billion. Newmont currently has about 60 full-time employees working on the project, including exploration geologists, drilling crews, and various support personnel.

The multi-million ounce mine has a projected life of 10 years, but that's sure to grow as new resources are identified through additional exploration drilling. For instance, Newmont's main operations on the Carlin Trend were projected to have a five-year mine life when the mine began production in 1965.

Gold at the Long Canyon mine is a high-grade ore that's easily mined and processed, which leads to lower production costs and safeguards Newmont's development plans from fluctuations in the price of gold. Open pit operations are expected to begin in 2017 and employ up to 500 full-time employees.


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