OURAY - The long-dormant Revenue-Virginius mine above Ouray has sprung back to life. A crew of about 25 workers is commuting up to the historic silver mine on a daily basis, with the goal of refurbishing surface facilities and making the 125-year-old underground workings safe for more extensive mining operations.
At the helm is Star Mine Operations LLC, a subsidiary of the Denver-based private mining company Silver Star Resources. The company has a lease purchase agreement on 500-600 acres of patented and unpatented mining claims associated with the mine, which is located near Yankee Boy Basin 6.9 miles south of Ouray.
Last fall, Star Mine Operations filed a Notice of Intent to conduct prospecting operations for hard rock/metal mining with the State of Colorado’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS), and was granted an exploration permit. The permit allows for core drilling exploration and the removal of 4,300 tons of waste rock from the main Revenue Mine adit.
“They wanted to do some upland drilling from some of the forest roads and private roads, as well as open up the portal and go underground for rehab and safety work to prepare for some underground prospecting,” explained Bob Oswald, a Durango-based DRMS Environmental Protection Specialist who processed the application.
Recently, the permit underwent a minor modification to allow Star Mine to blast a new underground storage area in which to house equipment, as well.
Conditions at the Revenue-Virginius have become unstable since the 1980s when it was last active. “The tunnels weren’t safe,” Project Manager Rory Williams said. “We have to go in and rehabilitate all of the tunnels and put up proper concrete structures. Technology has come a long way since the last time the mine was in operation. We have had to modernize, but it’s not an overnight process. It is a really big mine, and will take a long time.”
Williams, a geologist, said he’s made a commitment to hire only locals, and so far, has been successful in this effort. Williams is based in Denver but has been in Ouray for the past 10 days overseeing mine operations.
“All of our guys come from the area,” he said. “They’re coming from Silverton, Montrose and everywhere in between. We get applications from across the country, but we’re doing this for the community.”
Geologist and Ouray native John Trujillo is the mine manager. Underground Specialties, a contracting company from Silverton that is owned by fellow Ouray native Jack Clark, is also providing services at the mine.
Williams said he’s still looking to hire more workers – mechanics, electricians, plumbers, construction workers, heavy equipment operators, concrete and steel workers and of course, experienced miners – “anyone who is willing to work hard and be safe.”
Star Mine personnel are currently drafting documents to obtain a production permit to allow underground mining at the Revenue-Virginius as soon as 2013. Ultimately, Williams said, the mine could produce about 250 tons of silver-rich ore per day, employing “up to 50” local residents year-round over perhaps a decade of operation. “It will be quite a big operation.”
Water sampling plays a key role in acquiring a production permit. Under the Clean Water Act, mine operators must be able to prove that they will not adversely affect water quality in the area.
Williams is optimistic that he will be successful in this realm. Water quality data collected at the Revenue Mine as part of baseline data gathering for the upcoming permit application shows that the water discharged by the mine is so clean that it is suitable for human consumption, Williams said.
However, pointed out Oswald, “The water that comes down Canyon Creek and past their site is already affected from local geology and past mining; they’re right downstream of the old Atlas mill and tailings pond, so those are not exactly pristine waters by time they reach the Revenue.”
Thus, it is important to track the baseline water quality in Canyon Creek through quarterly sampling.
Star Mine is also conducting water sampling at different junctures underground, Oswald said, including the Atlas Drift water and Revenue water upstream of the Atlas drainage. “The sampling requirement would continue once the mining permit would be issued,” he said.
Other key aspects of the pending production permit include bonding, and a detailed outline of reclamation.
All projected mining activity will take place on patented claims (which are private lands); the operation is buffered by unpatented claims on United States Forest Service property, but no surface activity will take place on these public lands. Thus, the operation does not require a USFS permit to move forward, Williams said.