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Coeur Plans to Turn BLM Land Into Landfill, Rock Mine

Sat November 26, 2005 - West Edition
CEG



BOISE, ID (AP) A vote in a U.S. congressional committee has brought an Idaho-based mining company closer to buying federal land in northern Nevada’s Pershing County, where the company wants to turn one of its exhausted silver mines into a supplier of rock for roadbuilding –– and a landfill.

Coeur d’Alene Mines Corp. would pay about $3.5 million, or $500 an acre, for approximately 7,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public land that’s the site of Coeur’s Rochester mine, according to legislation approved by the House Resources Committee. The legislation is part of a broader budget appropriations bill still pending in Congress.

Nevada and Pershing County would get $600,000 from the sale, with the rest going to the U.S. Treasury.

After yielding more than 100 million ounces of silver and one million ounces of gold over the last two decades, the Rochester operation is played out, Coeur mining engineers said.

The company now wants to buy the land from the BLM and turn it into a source of construction rock to pave highways in neighboring California. The same rail cars used to haul the rock away from the mine would return laden with solid, non-hazardous waste from cities including Reno and Sparks, NV, to be buried at the site, according to a Coeur official’s testimony earlier this year before the House Resources Committee.

Coeur said its plans would replace a yet-to-be-determined number of the 250 mine jobs that now pay an average of $55,000 annually –– and will be lost when Rochester operations wind down in coming months.

“We would purchase the land with the objective of having a continuing business after we cease active mining at Rochester,’’ Coeur Spokesman Scott Lamb said. “We are contemplating an ongoing business that could serve as a model of sustainable development for the local community of Lovelock, Nevada.’’

There’s enough waste rock stockpiled at the site to supplement demand from California for some rock sizes for as long as 100 years, Coeur has said.

The company said the rock, destined for use as aggregate and construction material, isn’t contaminated toxic mine waste that’s been leeched with cyanide or treated with other chemicals.

“There is no concern about creating environmental hazards or moving environmental issues from Rochester to other sites,’’ Jim Arnold, a Coeur vice president, told Resources Committee members in July, according to a transcript.

The Rochester mine is the seventh-largest silver mine in the world.

Between January and June, miners there pulled more than 2.3 million ounces from the earth. But as supplies have dwindled, the cost of extracting the silver rose to more than $5 per ounce during the first half of 2005, nearly double the average cost since 1986.

The legislation that included the sale was approved in a 24-16 committee vote but still must pass the full House and Senate. That’s likely weeks away, House Resource Committee staff members said.