Commentary by Guy Farmer: Open pit mining on the Comstock? No thanks!

Even though I'm not a knee-jerk "mining is bad for Nevada" person, I urge the Lyon and Storey county commissions to deny permits for large-scale open pit mining operations in the Comstock Historic District between U.S. Highway 50 East and Virginia City.

But first, full disclosure: I recently went on a Nevada Mining Association (NMA) -sponsored trip to the Barrick Corporation's huge Meikle Gold Mine - the biggest underground gold mine in North America - north of Carlin in Elko County. I descended 1,200 feet into the mine and learned a lot about modern underground mining, which emphasizes safety and relies on space age technology. We were very well treated by NMA President Tim Crowley and his helpful colleagues.

Crowley assures me that Comstock Mining is a good corporate citizen. "I think they're a highly responsible company that is working hard to accommodate the Virginia City/Silver City communities," he told me. I readily acknowledge that the company has contributed to local charities and events and has even purchased the historic Gold Hill Hotel, where I've lectured on the 1963 Frank Sinatra gambling license revocation case.

Nevertheless, I simply cannot support the company's application for permits to engage in extensive open pit mining in the Comstock Historic District, which would make the district far less attractive to more than one million tourists who visit the area each year. According to the Comstock Residents Association, "Open pit mining is completely at odds with the purpose of federal and state historical designations, and it degrades our attraction as a historic tourism destination." As someone who has taken visitors to the Comstock for many years, I'm siding with the local residents.

In fact, last Sunday I took a fellow Foreign Service retiree to Virginia City, where we enjoyed a delicious gourmet brunch at the Del Rio Cafe and a lively country/western concert by the Comstock Cowboys at the historic Bucket of Blood Saloon. There's a fragile balance between the people and the environment on the Comstock and I oppose anything that would disturb that balance. Comstock Mining proposes to work some 6,500 acres of claims from the south end of Virginia City all the way down the canyon to Highway 50 East. In my opinion, such an operation would devastate property values in the affected area and destroy what's left of the high desert landscape.

"This company is already ravaging the landscape north of Devil's Gate where a large pit mine is being expanded," the Residents Association said in a public statement. "It has also begun an attempt to dig an enormous hole on the south side of Silver City as the first step in a 25-year pit mining plan which includes much of the Comstock."

So the battle lines are drawn, and that's why I plan to attend a Storey County Planning Commission meeting at the Virginia City Courthouse at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 18. If you care about preserving Northern Nevada's precious Comstock heritage, you'll be there too.

• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, has been visiting the Comstock since 1962.


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