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YERINGTON — While those in northern Nevada watch the gold market with some trepidation, as one mine closing follows another, in the little town of Yerington, in Lyon County, economic prosperity is knocking at the door.

Just southeast of Yerington, perhaps a 15 minute drive, is Nevada Copper’s Pumpkin Hollow project. Currently in the advanced exploration stage, the company intends to begin mining in 2015 to recover an estimated mineral inventory of 5.22 billion pounds of copper.

Timothy Dyhr, of environment and external relations, said it’s the right time and the right place to fully develop the mineral potential of the property.

Copper is particularly profitable right now due to the growth in China, which is the primary purchaser of the world’s copper. China requires copper to keep up with demand from industry – in particular the electronic industry.  Copper is used in cars, refrigerators, cell phones, and water pipes.

What’s good for China may ultimately be good for Lyon County, too, and particularly Yerington.

Nevada Copper estimates 1,000 – 1,100 jobs will be created through the development of the mine. Including the primary jobs at Pumpkin Hollow and the secondary jobs created when people have employment and money to spend – the total jobs created was estimated at 2,500. There will be additional jobs through the construction phase.

Dyhr pointed out the property itself is ideal for development.

Unlike some mines, where the employees have a long distance to travel between home and work, nearby Yerington is close enough to house a labor force without being so close problems might arise between neighbors.  

Of course, the most serious issue facing the county right now is not the proximity of jobs but the lack of them.  Unemployment in Lyon County has hovered at 11 percent during the last year.

Another factor that makes the location attractive for development is the fact the infrastructure is in place to include paved roads and a railroad. There is an airport nearby and the Reno/Tahoe Airport is a 90 minute drive.  In some cases, mines have to construct the infrastructure themselves, hiking up the cost of the project.

Additionally, there are no sensitive environmental factors that could derail the project, such as sage grouse, and there’s no running water nearby; in fact, the surrounding area has little in the way of plant life.

Nevada Copper was formed and acquired the property in 2006 from US Steel, who  had drilled 180,000 meters.

Since acquiring the property, Nevada Copper has completed more than 154,000 meters of drilling.  

Following exploration, Nevada Copper will refine the plans for the underground facilities.

• Located on the property, a short drive from the main office, is the headframe.  From the ground to the top of the steel is 150 feet; to the top of the lightning rods is 154 feet. Four-hundred tons of steel were needed to build the headframe, which is used with the hoist to move materials and people in and out of the shaft.   

• The hoist house is located nearby. Inside are two hoist drums with enough cable to reach the bottom of the shaft, can move at 2,140 feet/minute, and weigh 77,000 pounds each.

• The shaft is 24 feet in diameter and will be 2,200 feet deep. When it is time to mine the deposit, the shaft will be capable of hoisting 7,500 tons of ore per day. That’s enough ore to cover a basketball court with ore 16 feet deep.

• The property has about seven core shed storage facilities, of which Nevada Copper built two modern facilities, which house over a million feet of drill core. Less than half of which was drilled by previous companies.

Although everything appears rosey, Lyon County – like many in northern Nevada – has been waiting for Congress to pass a land’s bill, known as the Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act, which was wrapped up in six other land-use bills.  The bill would sell 19 square miles of federal lands at fair market value to Yerington for development of the copper mine.

In order to get the bill through committee, the Nevada delegation agreed to a trade: they would sell the property needed for development of the copper mine and other economic development opportunities and in exchange new wilderness area would be created.

But the largely conservative House Natural Resource Committee has no love for creating wilderness areas, which are considered the most restrictive of the land-use designations.

So the committee tweaked the language in the bill just a bit. Among the changes was language that would prohibit the option of selling privately-held land within the wilderness (known as inholding) to further the cause of conservation.

In essence, private property owners could only exchange or donate the property. So? Well, at issue is the possibility the language could derail the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act, legislation that puts federal property into private hands with the proceeds going for conservation projects on protected land. The act was negotiated by Senator Harry Reid and political wisdom does not believe he will vote for a bill that would undermine the SNPLMA.

Technically the lands-bill passed through the House of Representatives, but whether or not it will make it to the president’s desk seems unlikely.

The groan from Yerington was almost audible.  

Should the bill fail to make it into law, the result would be Nevada Copper would be permitting the open pits on federal lands, which means a longer permitting process – perhaps up to two years longer.

For Yerington, without the land transfer, the city wouldn’t be able to receive any tax dollars from the project.  The little town would have to take the load of new employees on their infrastructure without receiving the tax dollars necessary for the city’s upkeep.

Most serious, any delay in the project would mean a delay in jobs.

The next stop for the bill is for the Senate and House to line up their individual versions.

Meanwhile, Nevada Copper has continued seeking financing for development of the project. According to a statement released by the company, the pace for development of the project will be determined by available funding.

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