Long-stalled Fallon clay mine nears return to production
Carolyn C. Kramer pushed back the furniture in her living and dining rooms a few months back and started organizing piles of papers accumulated by Specialty Clays Corp. in the past 16 years.
Her mission: Sort through the hype that’s been generated about a deposit of sodium bentonite east of Fallon, figure out the facts of the matter and get the project back on track.
With any luck, and some timely final approvals from the Bureau of Land Management, Reno-based Specialty Clays will begin mining operations at the property during July.
Granite Construction of Sparks is contracted to handle the surface-mining operation. Kramer, the senior vice president for operations for Specialty Clays, estimates initial employment will be 35-40 workers. More will be added as the mine reaches full production.
The Reno office of AMEC, an engineering and project management company, has worked as a consultant during development of the mine.
Specialty Clays doesn’t plan to build a mill or other processing equipment at the site. Instead, it plans to truck bulk sodium bentonite from the site to railcars.
Sodium bentonite, a clay that expands when wet, is used in creation of drilling muds, treatment of porous soils, sealing of ponds and as a binder in chemical compounds.
Kramer says geologists long thought that the only high-grade deposits of sodium bentonite were found in Wyoming, but researchers working for Specialty Clays say the Nevada product meets the same standards.
“Watch out Wyoming, Nevada is going to give you a run for your money,” Kramer says.
But moving the company’s deposits into production has been a long, winding journey.
Specialty Clays recently added 50 claims to its existing 30 claims on BLM land near Fallon.
The claims are east of Grimes Point and north of Sand Mountain. The company will need to build a haul road once federal officials give their approval.
A pilot mining project ran from 2001-2003, but stalled. For more than 10 years, investors have tried one plan followed by another to begin production.
In 2010, a reorganized group of 10 investors living in locations from England to California decided to give the project another run.
Kramer, a retired turnaround specialist, got the assignment of straightening out the company a task that required plenty of floor space to organize paperwork.
“You can’t cut corners,” she says. “There is no easy way to do this.”
Unlike the precious metals mined to the north and east of Specialty Clays’ claims, the price of sodium bentonite doesn’t ride a giddy roller-coaster.
But it isn’t price that’s creating the urgency for Specialty Clays investors.
“All of us are of a certain age,” says Kramer. “There’s no time like the present, and we’d best get busy.”
Bryan Wachter of the Retail Association of Nevada said his organization is “very concerned about disruptions to the supply chain.”