Nevada Excellence in Mine Reclamation Awards for 2017 went to Comstock Mining Inc., Kinross Gold Corp., Newmont Mining Corp., and Newmont Exploration, and a new category is under consideration for the 2018 awards.
Comstock won for the company’s work rebuilding a road and for reclaiming historic mine features in Storey County. Kinross won for its work at the Bald Mountain Mine in White Pine County. Newmont won for work in developing sage-grouse habitat in northeastern Nevada, and the company’s exploration subsidiary won for work on exploration projects north of Carlin.
“The idea of a separate award for ‘Exploration Reclamation’ was pitched at the annual Nevada Mineral Exploration Coalition meeting last month to determine interest,” Richard Perry, administrator of the Nevada Division of Minerals, said in late October. “We’ll be talking with explorationists and trade associations in the next few months to determine if there is interest.”
The award would be for small exploration projects of 5 acres or fewer.
“Notice-level exploration activity averaged 99 projects per year over the period 2005-2015, so it is significant. These are mostly small exploration companies not the majors,” Perry said.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service are supportive of the proposal because small exploration projects are often in areas with sage-grouse habitat, he said.
The annual reclamation awards are a joint effort of the minerals division, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, Nevada Department of Wildlife, the BLM and the Forest Service.
The 2017 award selection was the first time the representatives of the agencies toured all the nominated sites.
Perry said the representatives “traveled around the state and looked at every submission. We were greeted at sites by operators and environmental staff who were eager to show off and share their successes. One of the purposes of the program is to share best practice successes so everyone gets better and more efficient.”
Brian Amme, deputy state BLM director for minerals management and a participant on the tours, said the top projects “should be above and beyond the minimal standards.”
The winners were selected from the nominees, but he said the tour provided a chance to encourage nominees, including those who didn’t win.
He said they were told “they are doing great work. Let’s see how it goes.”
The awards were presented at the Nevada Mining Association gathering at Lake Tahoe in September.
Comstock received the award for abandoned mine lands hazards mitigation for rebuilding State Route 342 and reclaiming historic mine features near Gold Hill in the historic Comstock District, including reclaiming legacy mercury tailings.
Amme said Comstock worked with the community and agencies to fix the road.
According to an account provided by Zach Spencer, director of external relations for Comstock, the company spearheaded an effort to remove the legacy mercury-contaminated mine dumps from beneath the road and realign a section of SR 342 that had been repeatedly failing for decades because of its location on top of old fill material above the Silver Hill Mine shaft.
Cracks in the road were detected after a weekend of heavy precipitation in winter 2015, and the Nevada Department of Transportation closed SR 342 on Feb. 8, 2015. NDOT announced in early March the damaged section of the road would remain closed until Comstock could build a bypass.
The bypass was opened in June of that year, and the rebuilt road was reopened to the public ahead of schedule in early December 2015, with final acceptance by NDOT and Storey County in May 2017. Comstock funded and built the $3 million project with oversight from NDOT and the county.
The mining company recovered 1,000 pounds of mercury from the pre-1904 mine tailings and captured it for proper disposal, Spencer said.
The new road features a scenic rock-lined waterway and offers tourists an easy route to visit the historic mining region.
Kinross Kinross received the award for concurrent reclamation and wildlife habitat restoration on a mule deer mitigation corridor, and NDOW submitted the nomination.
Kinross did roughly 1,100 acres of concurrent reclamation from 2014 through 2016 at Bald Mountain, mainly to reduce disturbance in the designated Area 10 mule deer migration corridor. The mine collaborated with the BLM and NDOW on options to keep mule deer movement ongoing during active mining.
According to the awards committee, 90 percent of the concurrently reclaimed areas have been seeded with approved mixtures and showed significant vegetation last year.
Kinross also funds a mule deer monitoring program that includes the collaring and real-time tracking of mule deer throughout the mine area, with annual monitoring data collected and reviewed by a wildlife working group at the end of each migration season.
Josh Roderick, environmental manager at Bald Mountain, said the mine’s efforts to reduce impacts to mule deer migration corridors included backfilling portions of mine pits to allow deer movement, sloping waste-rock disposal areas and blending them to match the surrounding landscape. Islands of native vegetation were left intact.
Newmont Newmont subsidiaries took two awards, and Steve Skidmore, director of environmental sustainability, said every employee gets a percentage of their bonus based on reclamation achieved that year, “not a huge percentage but reasonable.”
Newmont Mining received the 2017 award for leadership in conservation planning for the company’s work in developing a conservation framework agreement for 1.5 million acres of sage-grouse habitat. Newmont’s Elko Land and Livestock Co. was the subsidiary achieving this honor.
“Reclamation of these areas is significant. Now, the area is well-watered with cattails and water life,” Amme said.
He said Newmont’s ranch reclamation is good stewardship of the land and offsets mining impact while creating new habitat for the greater sage-grouse.
“The intent of the whole program is to implement sage-grouse strategy,” said Jeff White, director of rangelands for Newmont North America and vice president of Newmont’s Elko Land and Livestock.
Newmont is “really delighted to be recognized for that effort,” he said.
The conservation framework agreement is a partnership of Newmont, BLM, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The agreement covers Elko Land and Livestock’s ranches in northeastern Nevada.
Newmont Exploration was given an award for concurrent exploration reclamation for work at the Chevas and High Desert exploration projects.
White said the Chevas and High Desert projects are near the original Carlin Pit. The first approvals for exploration at the sites were issued in the early 1990 and have been revised over the years. The combined projects cover more than 482 acres.
Newmont’s application for the reclamation award states that concurrent reclamation during exploration has been the standard at these projects, with drill pads reclaimed as soon as they are no longer needed. Reclamation includes recontouring disturbed areas, seeding, controlling the spread of noxious weeds and monitoring.
Skidmore said that “the largest increases in resources and reserves are around current operations.”
The Nevada Excellence in Mine Reclamation Award Committee is now seeking nominations for the 2018 awards, with a deadline of July 27. More information is available on the Nevada Division of Minerals website at minerals.nv.gov.