by Rick Langenberg:
Southern Teller County’s largest employer is ready to dig underground big-time in a scene reminiscent of the golden era of gold mining in the Cripple Creek/Victor district.
In what could become one of the most significant and exciting mining development in decades, Jane Mannon, Community Affairs Manager of the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company (CC&V), told the Teller County Commissioners last week of conceptual expansion plans for a major underground hard rock mining operation in the north end of the district, just east of the Mollie Kathleen Mine. “It has been the dream of a lot of folks,” said the CC&V spokesperson, in describing the possibility of developing an actual underground mine again. “We want to see if there is an opportunity to go underground.”
Under this plan, CC&V would do exploratory work this year, develop the actual underground mine infrastructure next year, including the construction of a portal, with the first year of production slated for the first quarter of 2017 and full production in 2019. If the underground mine becomes feasible, CC&V hopes to net at least 32,000 ounces of gold a year. The project would continue through the current mine life cycle, which is expected to end around 2026.
The project would be located in an area dubbed as the “high wall” area of the North Cresson project and would feature much stabilization work. The CC&V underground plunge would extend for several hundred feet, according to preliminary studies. It’s still unknown how many employees would be used to man the future underground mine operation.
However, in a later interview, Mannon cautioned that a lot more details have to reviewed, such as the project price tag. A key factor could hinge on the price of gold, which has been dropping closer to the $1,000 per ounce level. Late last week, the price was listed at about $1,295. The slipping price of gold is the biggest economic challenge facing CC&V. In Sept. 2011, gold soared to as high of $1,895 per ounce, a number that generated much speculation of an era of unprecedented boom for CC&V and the district
Mannon described this year as more of a pre-study period for the project. She expected that CC&V will conduct more meetings and indicated this could become the focus of a “Mine Shots” presentation. “There seems to be a lot of interest in this type of project,” admitted Mannon. In addition, CC&V would have to obtain additional permitting, but the actual footprint of its Cresson operation wouldn’t change.
The future plans for an underground mining operation certainly got the attention last week of the Teller County Commissioners, who heavily praised CC&V for its work and community involvement.
Commissioner Norm Steen asked Mannon about historic details of this type of operation and technical information about mine stabilization efforts. He expressed both excitement and caution about the future project. Steen cited several tragic underground mining operations in South America, where miners were trapped for extended period. “Let’s not do that in Teller County,” quipped Steen.
For the most part, the commissioners appeared upbeat about the future underground mining operation. Re-establishing underground hard rock mining, with historic ties to the former gold rush heyday, has been a dream of many long-time mining veterans. Mannon told the commissioners that CC&V is confident of its rock stabilization in that particular area and cited the Mollie Kathleen Mine as a good example. She also stressed that top-rate technology would be used to assure the safety of miners. At the same time, Mannon stressed that the project would require a lot more research. “This will be new for everybody,” said the community affairs manager.
As for historic details, Mannon believes this would be the first major underground mining venture since the 1960s when the Ajax mine was in operation. In recent years, some small underground mining efforts have been proposed by a few individuals in the district, such as the plans of Shannon Murphy and the associated Murphy Mining and Exploration group to develop several mining claims on the slopes of Tenderfoot Hill. But these efforts never materialized.
Cripple Creek project getting closer
The underground mining development is just one project on the plate for CC&V. “It is going to be a very busy year,” admitted Mannon.
During her annual presentation last week, the CC&V community affairs manager informed the commissioners that the North Cresson project near the historic Poverty Gulch area, which stirred much previous political controversy in Cripple Creek, will soon become a reality. She cited 2015 as the final preparatory year during which many trees will be removed from a hillside overlooking the Cripple Creek Heritage Center, along with top soil stockpiling.
Then, in 2016, the actual mining will begin for the nearly 150-acre North Cresson project, just outside Cripple Creek, expected to occur over a several year period. City leaders in Cripple Creek once mounted a strong campaign against this project, citing the scars this could create and the loss of a scenic hillside. But a compromise was eventually reached between CC&V and the city. CC&V agreed to open up a local office in Cripple Creek, pay a hefty $100,000 contribution for a future recreation center and do more mitigation work.
Mannon says she hasn’t heard many concerns from Cripple Creek leaders in recent months. But that could change once the project starts. “So far, it’s been out of sight, out of mind,” said the community affairs manager.
One big victor for the North Cresson venture could be the Cripple Creek Heritage Center. CC&V is still planning on doing a number of exhibits and viewing platforms that could give Heritage Center visitors a first-hand glimpse into a modern mining operation. When they first unveiled plans for the North Cresson, project, CC&V officials outlined a number of heritage tourism benefits, citing the popularity nationwide of real-life displays that show modern-day applications of mining. This aspect of heritage tourism has sparked mixed views from many community leaders. At the same time, civic officials acknowledge that the Cripple Creek-Victor area is a mining district.
As for other mining developments, Mannon cited a few technical delays with its high grade mill in the Squaw Gulch area that will enable CC&V to vastly increase its production. The mill will be capable of handling 2 million tons of ore a year. As a result, CC&V will be equipped to mine nearly 300,000 ounces of gold in 2015, which marks a substantial increase from 2014.
Other current and forthcoming mining developments include:
*The continued work on an expanded valley leach facility with the completion of a phase one liner in 2015 and phase two in 2016.
*The construction of an (Adsorption Desorption Recovery) ADR 2 plant in 2015, which amounts to a better filtering system for the processing of the gold.
*An active employment hiring boom, with projection of 600 workers in 2015 and an annual payroll that exceeds $34.7 million.
*A total tax payment to Teller County of $6.75 million.
*Efforts to help community groups in the county and to boost tourism with more than 3,000 summer mining tours.