Future Gemfield Mine Expected to Boost Economic Prospects in Rural Nevada
A Golden Opportunity: Nevada’s Shovel-Ready Gemfield Mine Project a Catalyst for Economic Growth
Nevada has long been recognized as one of the top gold-producing regions in the world. At present the state has more than 180,000 active mining claims and around 200 authorized mining plans of operations recorded by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), fueling bountiful economic opportunities for both residents and businesses. One major development on the horizon is the Gemfield Mine project, a future open-pit heap leach gold mine in Esmeralda County.
The Gemfield Mine site is located a half-mile north of the small Goldfield community, one of the most prolific and historic gold mining districts in Nevada. The property contains 563 patented and 586 unpatented mining claims across roughly 15,000 acres. Already fully permitted and shovel-ready, the development is owned by Gemfield Resources, LLC, a portfolio company managed by Waterton Global Resource Management, Inc. (Waterton), a Toronto-based private equity firm. Once the mine turns operational, it is expected to produce over 125,000 ounces of gold annually.
Key Infrastructure Tasks
To date, Gemfield Resources has spent approximately $50 million in key infrastructure developments to facilitate construction of the mine. This scope of work includes the permanent relocation of approximately 2.5 miles of U.S. Highway 95 (U.S. 95) in partnership with the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) and related infrastructure work. The state transportation agency is reviewing all plans and specifications to ensure the new facility meets its rigorous design and construction standards.
Highway construction has been underway since August 2019 and was substantially completed in January 2020. At that point, the project had reportedly employed 90 individuals and totaled 70,000 man hours thus far.
An estimated 38,700 tons of road base and 33,700 tons of asphalt pavement will be used for the new highway alignment, which is being moved approximately 2,100 feet west of the existing alignment along with adjacent existing utilities (water, power and fiber-optic lines). The highway relocation is needed because a segment of the original roadway crosses directly over top of the Gemfield deposit.
To minimize travel and service disruption, the existing highway facilities have remained in place and active during construction. The traffic control plan calls for a single lane of traffic to remain open in each direction of the existing roadway, with traveling speeds reduced to 40 miles per hour throughout the project limits.
At the time of reporting for this article, project officials anticipated switching U.S. 95 traffic onto the new highway alignment on January 20, 2020. Certain construction work will remain ongoing, such as utility relocation and drainage channel construction. Traffic will be switched back to the temporary detours in late spring/early summer to allow for the final blacktop surface and striping to be placed.
In conjunction with the highway relocation, the aging municipal water system that connects to Goldfield is being modernized in collaboration with Esmeralda County. Related improvements include the installation of approximately 11 miles of PVC waterline and the construction of a new booster pump station. These upgrades will not only supply the Gemfield Mine with water for construction and operations, but also improve water delivery to the town.
The infrastructure activities described above are being spearheaded by two national firms with diverse experience in an array of construction markets. Ames Construction, an operation based in Burnsville, Minnesota, is serving as the general contractor and Horrocks Engineers, a firm headquartered in Pleasant Grove, Utah, is providing engineering and construction management services.
The remote nature of the rural site presents one of the biggest logistical hurdles on the highway relocation project. Identifying suitable material sources has required close coordination with county and state officials as well as local aggregate and concrete suppliers. A condensed construction schedule also poses various challenges.
“Typically, a project like this would take about 12 months for engineering and construction to be completed. However, the project was substantially completed in under 5 months,” comments Construction Manager Lee Jacoby, PE, Horrocks Engineers. His firm partnered with Ames Construction to develop an accelerated schedule, a plan requiring many seven-day work weeks and extended daily working hours. Additionally, the project team is working closely with NDOT to streamline decision-making processes and is operating an on-site material testing laboratory to expedite test results for approval.
Future Mine Construction Highlights
After all infrastructure work is completed, the mine itself will be ready for construction. The site will contain a host of new mine components, including (but not limited to): an open pit; crushing facilities, conveyors and associated stockpiles; waste-rock disposal areas; an overburden stockpile; stormwater diversion channels, sediment basins and berms; a heap leach pad, processing facilities and ponds; and water supply and dewatering wells and a delivery/storage system. Ancillary facilities will consist of diesel and gasoline storage and fueling facilities, a truck shop, a warehouse, an administrative building and a laboratory.
The Gemfield Mine project is anticipated to have an operational life of approximately 12 years, with opportunities to materially extend the initial mine life. The deposit has a known strike length of approximately 2,400 feet and is 1,200 feet wide at its widest point. The depth of gold mineralization beneath barren alluvial cover ranges from about 10 to 700 feet.
Current mining plans call for a pit that is 3,500 feet long and 3,300 feet wide at its longest and widest sections, covering an area of approximately 160 acres. The pit will be mined to have 20-foot benches that will extend to a maximum depth of 525 feet below ground and produce an overall high-wall slope (from horizontal) ranging from 40 to 45 degrees. Mining will be accomplished through conventional open-pit mining methods (truck and shovel/loader) at a permitted rate of up to 10 million tons per year, or approximately 27,400 tons per day. Rock will be drilled and blasted for excavation using ammonium nitrate and fuel oil or other appropriate blasting agents determined by rock characteristics. Peak ore and waste production are anticipated to be 65,000 tons per day.
Bright Economic Prospects in Nevada
Future prospects look bright as Nevada continues its ride on the biggest gold boom in U.S. history. With broad community support for projects such as the Gemfield Mine, the resulting economic boost will help to maintain a stable workforce and bolster business growth statewide.
“The Gemfield Mine project has robust economics, a strong social license to operate, and is located in the world’s top mining jurisdiction,” states Senior Project Manager Andrew Conover of Gemfield Resources. “The project is expected to drive the creation of hundreds of direct and indirect jobs in the region, including about 200 contract workers for varying periods during mine construction and approximately 150 employees during the project’s mine life. The increase in income earnings from the future Gemfield Mine will be a major economic benefit to the local economy.”
According to Gemfield Resources spokespersons, the mine project has been widely endorsed by key leaders in the region, including representatives from the town of Goldfield and Esmeralda County. In addition to strong stakeholder support, the BLM Battle Mountain District Office’s permitting efforts for this project were successfully streamlined through its efforts performed in accordance with the enactment of Secretarial Order No. 3355, an initiative designed by the Trump administration to add efficacy to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) processes and bolster employment in the U.S. By early August 2019, all major federal and state permits for the Gemfield Mine had been successfully obtained, including the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This is the second EIS for a new mine to be approved by the BLM since the implementation of Secretarial Order No. 3355.
“We are thrilled to see our collective efforts come to fruition with the project’s receipt of its final federal and state permits,” affirms DeLon Winsor, Chairman of the Board of Esmeralda County Commissioners. Ira Hansen, a Nevada senator representing Esmeralda County, adds, “Economic development opportunities such as this one are few and far between in many regions of rural Nevada. I look forward to the continued progress of the Gemfield project and its economic impact on the surrounding communities, which are filled with hardworking Nevadans looking for the chance to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and succeed.”