Correction: Gold Hill Mining and Reclamation leases its land and mineral rights from Quartzburg Holding Co.
On Friday, gold miners near Placerville were finishing hauling to their mill nearly 200,000 tons of ore and waste rock that had been left when the Boise Basins first wave of mining ended in 1938.
The processing, essentially a large, efficient sluice box that washes away lighter rock, uses no chemicals. The wash station and crusher dont cause water quality problems in part because no arsenic and heavy metals are present.
We will leave this little valley better than when we came, said Chris Guill, president of Gold Hill Reclamation and Mining Co. Were proud of that.
While environmental groups are fighting to stop the CuMo molybdenum mine and the Atlanta Gold mines because of concerns about the Boise River, Gold Hill is recovering thousands of ounces of gold from a historic mining area less than 30 miles from Boise. The Idaho Conservation League watched the permitting that was necessary and did not oppose any of them.
We support responsible mining, said John Robison, the leagues public lands conservation director. We just want to make sure the water is protected.
The initial processing, started in 2009, winnows the gold in several forms from thousands of tons of granite and other rock sitting in mountain-sized piles outside old mine sites dating back to 1863.
The process leaves the remaining ore and free gold in one-and-a-quarter-ton bags. The contents must go through further processing to recover up to 1.5 ounces of gold from each bag, but the initial sluicing is inexpensive enough to allow the miners to run even low-grade material through the mill.
The only way it worked was to do it big scale, Guill said.
Initially, the Millers were told the piles contained $50 million worth of gold. Guill said that estimate was very high since tons of the material held no gold at all.
But Guill said they wont know how much gold they have until the processing is done. And since they are a private company they arent reporting their profits publicly.
The processing depends on water, which carries the crushed rock through the wash plant. And it also must be relatively clean, Guill said, or the gold is carried through the plant along with the waste rock.
Since the water levels in the West Fork of Granite Creek, a tributary of Grimes Creek, have dropped so low, Guill isnt certain he can finish the processing this fall. The operation may have to close soon.
Don and Candy Miller of Boise bought the ghost town of Quartzburg in 2005 and discovered they were sitting on a literal gold mine. They took ownership of the 289 acres and a garage full of the geological records going back to the mines beginning.
They sold the property to Gold Hill, which began a pilot plant to process the material that was sitting on the surface and required no shafts, tunnels or pits to access. The company hired a contractor, Knife River, to manage its excavation and the wash station. Knife River upgraded the plant on Gold Hills design and increased processing to 1,000 tons daily.
But Gold Hill is not simply mining. It also has gotten in the reclamation business.
The company just got a permit to haul 36,000 tons of mine tailings from public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The waste rock was on 25 acres adjacent to Gold Hill property, a continuation of the piles it was already processing.
Guill praised the BLM and other agencies for acting quickly, allowing the company to move the rock now, while it has equipment on the site. If it had to come back next year, it might not have been able to justify the cost of bringing back large ore trucks and loaders that can scoop more than 10 tons per load.
The company was hoping to continue with waste piles at the nearby Belshazzar mine, located on U.S. Forest Service land. But Boise National Forest officials have not been able to complete their assessment in time.
Gold Hill officials say that could cost them as much as $100,000 to bring the equipment back next year, but Guill also is looking at other tailings in the area.
It doesnt take a lot of gold to make it worthwhile, said Guill.
What makes this mine different from many in its class is that Gold Hill is not mining the stock market to pay for its exploration. In addition to its current processing of ore, it has capital from Chinese investors through the EB-5 immigration-investment program.
The Gold Hill lode was discovered in 1863. The property holds 19 patented mining claims consisting of the Gold Hill, Eisler and Yellowjacket claims. Historical records indicate the Yellowjacket claim could have a potential 400,000 ounces of gold, the company said on its website. That is more than $670 million at todays gold price.
Eventually Gold Hill will decide whether to go underground to get more gold. Even though the mine is on private land, it would require state and federal permits, and that would bring the company up against the fears about mining impacts on the Boise River. And that would bring more scrutiny.
We would weigh in a lot more, the Conservation Leagues Robison said.
Guill said it is too early to say whether the operation will go underground. If it does, the company will excavate new shafts and tunnels instead of using the old ones. Ryan McDermott, a geologist who has walked most of the property, has mapped out veins of quartz that have varying levels of gold and ore.
The areas rock formations were responsible for the placer deposits in Grimes Creek and below that historically produced more than 2 million ounces of gold. McDermott has the Millers records to guide him.
The historic data package for this property is one of the best Ive ever seen, McDermott said.
Before Gold Hill can decide whether to go underground, it will have to do more exploration, including drilling, which is expensive. Processing the old piles was profitable because the price of gold is so high.
The change in the price of gold can turn waste into ore, McDermott said.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484