Comstock Mining has taken another step forward in its plan to resume gold and silver mining in Storey County, receiving one of several necessary permits from the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection.
The company still must complete numerous steps before actual mining starts, according to an NDEP spokesman and Storey County senior planner Austin Osborne.
Company officials couldn't be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
At the state level, the company needs to file and receive a water pollution control permit, get approval for its expanded and updated reclamation plan, and obtain an air quality permit, said Vinson Guthreau of the Conservation and Natural Resources Department.
Osborne said that the remaining steps at the county level are much more stringent, but that company officials have so far been very cooperative.
"And they can't start until everything is all wrapped up," he said.
Contrary to what many area residents think, he said, the permit sought by Comstock isn't for mining, only for exploration.
"At this point, the special-use permit is just for mineral exploration, not for mining," Osborne said. "Bore-hole method. They're not allowed to do test pits or trenching or anything like that."
He said his staff and planning commissioners have put 35 conditions on the permit including that Comstock is allowed to disturb no more than 10 acres at any one point.
"They have to reclaim before they go to a new 10 acres. That's any and all surface disturbances," Osborne said.
Osborne said those conditions spell out what the company must do "in excruciating detail," controlling everything from sound to lighting, road construction, the type of drilling allowed, protection of views for the V&T Railroad as well as proximity and protection of residences. He said conditions also prohibit the company from disturbing anything historic in the area: "They can't move it, can't paint it, can't touch it."
"We have been working with state and local agencies to try come up with a regulation that does two things," Osborne said. "One, it allows the property rights they already have to be used. Second, to make sure we're not going to have any impacts to residents, tourism, the historic integrity of this town and the environment.
"I'm comfortable making a recommendation for approval even though I live in that area," said Osborne.
He said the planning commission was to formalize its recommendation to allow the company to move forward Thursday night but that he doubts the county commission will schedule a vote on it for a month.
"The county commission has determined it wants to make sure it has plenty of time to read almost a foot of documents related to this project," he said.
The project raised fears among Gold Hill-area residents who went to the Legislature to make sure the company couldn't use a 100-year-old law allowing mining companies to condemn private property. Legislation removing that power from the law, offered by state Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, was approved and signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval.
But those residents have continued to express concern that the resumption of mining would severely impact their quality of life.
They are expected to turn out again when the Storey County Commission hears the application for a special use permit.