Sandoval helps break ground for a return to copper mining in Lyon County

Granted, actual production still is about two years away at Nevada Copper's Pumpkin Hollow mine in the hills southeast of downtown Yerington, but Saturday's groundbreaking for the mine's underground portal marks the first significant step for a return to copper mining in Lyon County.

Gov. Brian Sandoval and a handful of dignitaries and officials from Nevada Copper turned the first spadefuls of dirt for a planned shaft that will delve 2,164 feet underground. The target: mineral reserves estimated at 5.8 billion pounds of copper, 1.5 million ounces of gold and 40 million ounces of silver.

"This is a game-changer for the community," Sandoval said. "This is the first step on a journey for this community."

Atkinson Construction of Broomfield, Colo., a subsidiary of Clark Construction Group of Bethesda, Md., expects to take about 18 months to excavate the 24-foot diameter shaft, Atkinson Project Manager Ron Gabitzsch said. The shaft will be dug using a four-stage platform that allows workers to concurrently excavate material and pour reinforced concrete walls as the platform descends.

Once the target depth is reached, mining will commence in a series of horizontal drifts. Initially, Nevada Copper expects to employ about 200 miners for its underground operations, and the company could have as many as 800 miners on its payroll once open-pit mining commences on the west side of the property.

"We have looked at this site for a number of years, and now we are to a point where we can advance," said Guilio Bonifacio, president and CEO of Vancouver-based Nevada Copper Corp.

Nevada Copper already has invested about $30 million in exploration activities and permitting for both its underground operations and planned open-pit mining at the Pumpkin Hollow site. The company now needs to raise up to $1.2 billion in capital to complete a milling facility and ore-processing operations at the site.

Bonifacio said another $1 billion may be invested in the site throughout its lifecycle, which could run between 18.5 and 25 years. To raise such a large amount of capital, Bonifacio said, the company may seek a strategic partner, potentially from a company located in an emerging Asian nation hungry for raw materials.

"The next step is to continue on with drawing in the investment capital," Bonifacio said. "The sooner we are able to get the project permitted, then that will facilitate our ability to raise $1 billion. We are trying to draw a Korean or Japanese group that is interested in this product to facilitate a funding package."

Copper mining in the Mason Valley effectively ended in 1978 when Anaconda Mining Company shuttered operations at the Anaconda Pit. The mine, which has since been declared a superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency, was purchased in 1977 by Atlantic Richfield Co.

About 600 people, including many longtime residents of the Mason Valley, attended Saturday's groundbreaking ceremonies. The opening of the mine is expected to have significant financial impact on the economy of Lyon County, one of the state's hardest-hit counties throughout the recession. Unemployment in the county reached 16.1 percent in December, the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation said.


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