Chloride split over copper mine's revival

AHRON SHERMAN/Miner<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Sierra Resource Group CEO Rod Martin addresses some of the concerns voiced by several people who attended the Wednesday town hall meeting in Chloride.

AHRON SHERMAN/Miner<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Sierra Resource Group CEO Rod Martin addresses some of the concerns voiced by several people who attended the Wednesday town hall meeting in Chloride.

CHLORIDE - Representatives of the Sierra Resource Group, a Nevada-based mining company, received a mixed reaction Wednesday when they held a town hall meeting in Chloride to explain their plan to open the Chloride Copper Mine.

"We're happy to be your new neighbor," said Rod Martin, CEO of Sierra. "This is our first mine."

According to a pamphlet handed out at the meeting, Sierra intends to refurbish the existing solvent-extraction/electro-winning plant and construct a new leach pad to process and recover elemental copper from existing copper oxide ore from previously mined stockpiles and the upper portion of the pit.

Solvent-extraction/electro-winning is used to pull copper from oxidized copper ore bodies.

The site is about 15 miles northwest of Kingman and about four miles south of Chloride. Sierra has acquired 450 acres of mining claims on the property, which sits on Old Boulder Road and is located within the Walapai Mining District.

Travis Snider, Sierra's vice president of operations, said people have been mining in the Walapai district since 1860. The Chloride Copper Mine - otherwise known as Emerald Isle - was managed by 10 different companies between 1917-1999.

"(Throughout this time, there's been) sporadic periods of operation and then no operation," Snider said.

The site was previously owned and operated by TSC Enterprises, Redstone Resources, Inc. and SGV Resources, Inc. before Sierra formally completed its acquisition of the mine in 2010.

Voiced by several people, one of the biggest complaints communicated to the representatives of Sierra involved the dust and dirt created by the previous owners basically not cleaning up their mess. Reluctant to believe any answer offered, many of those who attended continued to ask what Sierra plans to do about the dust.

"We understand it's a major issue," Snider said, adding that Sierra is looking for ways to suppress the dust that include sprinkler systems, maybe a hardening agent or even incorporating the dust into the tailings. "The old company ignored reclamation."

Nothing can be done in the way of reclamation or anything else, for that matter, until the Bureau of Land Management issues Sierra a permit. The company is basically at the beginning of that process.

Keith Julian, the environmental planning and permitting specialist for Paul C. Rizzo and Associates, Inc., said BLM is in charge of issuing the permits and right-of-way grants. The site of the Chloride Copper Mine is on public land. The mineral rights, however, belong to Sierra.

Rizzo and Associates is in charge of reengineering and performing metallurgical tests to bring help bring the mine back into production.

Sierra must present a draft environmental assessment to the Kingman field office for the BLM. This working document is used to help BLM make decisions regarding the permits, he said.

The purpose of the environmental assessment is to propose mitigation of significant effects to less-than-significant levels, Julian said. One key provision of the assessment, Julian said, is reclamation of the site. Sierra plans to clean up the site concurrent with operations instead of waiting till the project is completed.

"Sierra is not waiting to the end" to clean up its mess, Julian said.

Ruben Sanchez, of the BLM's Kingman field office, said Sierra must submit a mining plan of operations, which is supposed to explain exactly what Sierra plans to do. That document is the vehicle for the environmental assessment.

"It's your public land," Sanchez said. "If you have concerns, speak up."

Sanchez added that people can send their concerns to the Kingman field office, 2755 Mission Blvd.

Sierra expects to submit the preliminary draft to BLM in July and expects there to be about a month worth of review. It is expected that the assessment will be approved in October. If all goes according to plan, Sierra hopes to start construction in December and have the plant producing copper in January or February.

According to the pamphlet, the project is expected to produce more than four million pounds of copper per year for approximately three years. Desert Construction has been awarded a contract to operate the plant, but there will still be between 30-40 jobs available. The process of accepting applications for employment has not begun.

Despite the reluctance of some to believe Sierra's assurances, others spoke of their excitement regarding the jobs it will create and the effect it will have on the economy.

Sierra did not create the environmental problems people spoke of at the meeting, but it did inherit them. The representatives seem to understand that, and promised several times to not ignore the dust problem.

"Actions are better than words," Snider said, understanding that no one was going to buy what Sierra is selling till they see it in action. "The sins of the past are the problems we face today."