The Long Canyon gold mine celebrated completion of its first year in commercial production with better-than-expected production results and plans to start a second phase.

“Production-wise, we exceeded our target,” said Gordon Mountford, general manager of Long Canyon, a Newmont Mining Corp. open pit operation south of Interstate 80 halfway between Wells and West Wendover.

More than 4.4 million ore tons were laid on leach pads over the 12 months since commercial production began in November 2016. Identifying additional ore tons and seeing faster extraction on the leach pads has helped the Long Canyon team surpass its goals. The average reserve grade is 0.061 ounces per ton.

“That’s helping our ore production exceed plan this year,” said Mountford, a mining engineer who has worked for Newmont for 25 years. “Things are looking actually really good.”

Newmont broke ground on Long Canyon in April 2015, just 10 days after the Bureau of Land Management approved the mine’s record of decision. Through effective bargaining and engineering, Newmont completed the project for an initial investment of about $230 million — $63 million below the estimated investment, including $8 million in management reserve. The first ore landed on the heap leach in May 2016, although commercial production didn’t begin for another five months after the plant went online and enough ore covered the pad.

The site, with a plan of operation boundary of more than 24,000 acres, includes almost 3,879 disturbed acres permitted. Facilities include an administration building, truck shop with car wash, carbon-in-column building, heap leach and ponds. The run-of-mine operation employs about 240 people on-site and another 10 regionally. The fleet features 12 240-ton haul trucks, one loader and two shovels.

Looking over the leach pads in January, process superintendent and 22-year Newmont employee Clayton Prothro pointed out how the pad is being filled in and preparations for expansion are in progress. The pad measures about 3 million square feet and is permitted to a height of 300 feet.

“This gives you an idea of how big the pad is,” said Mountford, who explained that it will expand an additional 1 million square feet in 2018. “Now we have put the first lift in, and reclamation has started.”

“And it is looking good,” Prothro responded.

Newmont is performing ongoing reclamation, and about 20 acres have been reclaimed (sloped with two foot cover)with soil, rocks and seed to emulate the natural landscape.

“It’s not typical to see reclamation start the first year of mining,” Mountford said.

Ongoing reclamation is part of a plan to minimize the mine’s effect on the environment. Other components include painting buildings sage green to blend with the desert; using down-facing lights to preserve the dark night skies; conserving water; and using fences to prevent wildlife from entering the facility.

Just as Mountford was describing how the mine dwells on a deer migration corridor, a herd of mule deer darted across the road. Staff has also observed elk, antelope, bobcats and a mountain lion nearby.

Phase one of the mine takes processing through 2024, but the team submitted its phase two plan of operation to the BLM in September. It was deemed complete, and an environmental analysis has begun. If all goes well, final permits could be in place by late 2020 to keep operations at a consistent rate. Phase two involves open pit expansion and the possibility of underground mining, Mountford said.

Despite the progress, production and promising future, Mountford focused on another aspect of accomplishment for Long Canyon. He said “our big success was safety,” as they had only one reportable minor injury all year.

“The biggest reason why Long Canyon has been successful is the employees and the teamwork of each and every employee that contributed to that success,” Mountford said.