After imposing more than 30 conditions requested by staff and the planning commission, Storey County commissioners on Wednesday granted Comstock Mining a special use permit allowing further exploratory drilling in the Gold Hill Area.
The vote was unanimous for the permit, which doesn't actually allow mining of ore, only exploration.
The company wants to resume silver and gold mining in the area but has run into strong opposition from area residents.
Storey County Senior Planner Austin Osborne said Commissioner Greg "Bum" Hess gave opponents some comfort by saying that, down the road, he doesn't like the idea of a new open pit mine in the Comstock Historic District. Hess said that when it comes time to actually resume mining, he wants to seriously look at underground mining that doesn't have the same impacts on the community, economy and integrity of the historic district.
Osborne said with the extensive conditions in the special use permit, "I really think everybody came out a winner."
He credited the company, citing its willingness to work with the county and state agencies, particularly the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection. He said he lives in that area and is satisfied enough to support the permit
Ben Wesner, a retired Virginia City contractor, said the Comstock Residents Association opposes open-pit mining inside the historic district. Despite the association's opposition to the project, "We're satisfied that these new restrictions will add protections and improve oversight and to that extent, it's a victory."
Author David Toll, a Gold Hill resident and vocal critic of the project, said the permit is a positive outcome, putting the company on notice that "its long history of violations is at an end."
Corrado De Gasperis, CEO of Comstock Mining, said in a statement after the vote that the permit allows expanded drilling in the company's largest target area.
Osborne said the permit doesn't allow test pits or trenching, just bore holes. He said the company can disturb only 10 acres at a time and must reclaim the land before going on to a new 10 acres. The conditions control everything - sound, lighting, road construction and protection V&T railroad views. They bar doing anything that disturbs anything historic in the area.
"They can't move it, can't paint it, can't touch it," he said.
"Our county and our team will be watching," Osborne said. "The Comstock Residents Association will be watching. We'll make sure everything is done right and be the first to come down on them if they don't."
He said the company still has a number of hoops to jump through before actually starting to mine gold and silver. A plan of operation has been applied for with the state environmental division. The company needs a water pollution control permit, an updated reclamation plan and an air quality permit, as well.
Comstock Mining hopes to produce 20,000 "gold equivalent" ounces of precious metal a year from the mine.