Visitors entering Mason Valley from southbound Highway 95A are greeted by an odd-yet-familiar sight: lights shining atop the huge head frame at Nevada Copper’s Pumpkin Hollow mine.
Copper mining, of course, is nothing new to the small town in Lyon County. Yerington has a long history of copper mining, though it’s been many years since copper was produced there.
Nevada Copper is changing that. The company is more than one-third the way through sinking a 2,200-foot-deep production shaft and expects to begin producing copper at the site in late 2015.
Construction of the head frame, the large steel structure that houses the hoists, pulleys and buckets used to remove waste rock from the shaft-blasting process, is no small feat. The head frame stands 152 feet tall, and more than 400 tons of steel were used in its construction.
The shaft crew is moving at a target rate of 6 to 7 feet per day, and by late January it had excavated more than 600 feet of rock.
Capital expenditure for the underground operation is expected to cost roughly $330 million. Last March, Nevada Copper secured $200 million in financing from Red Kite Mine Finance. The bulk of the financing — $139 million — will be drawn once the 2,200-foot-deep production shaft is completed.
Last October, Nevada Copper also announced it had executed a $24 million equipment financing package with Caterpillar Financial Services Corp.
The price of copper, which has a wide range of industrial uses, hasn’t seen the same type of battering as other precious metals. However, securing the large amount of funding needed for the Pumpkin Hollow project proved no less challenging, says Tim Dyhr, vice president of environment and external relations.
“It has affected us,” Dyhr said during a tour of the property a few weeks ago. “It has been a challenge to get money, but we did get a $200 million loan facility from a very sophisticated mine investor — we are the biggest investment that they have.”
The well-documented struggles with the shiny yellow metal actually has helped copper miners — there are more skilled miners and technical workers available since several gold-mining firms reduced their payrolls in 2013.
“I wish we were hiring an operating workforce right now, because we would have people that have gotten laid off,” Dyhr says.
Nevada Copper is working with Western Nevada College and Job Connect to train workers for the site. Dyhr says that new miners or mill workers must have the right skills.
“We need experienced miners and process people, but we also are going to work very aggressively to make opportunities available to locals by saying, ‘This is where you need training,’” he says.
The mining workforce once Pumpkin Hollow is up and running is expected be around 400, but it could be as high as 900 if Nevada Copper wins approval for open-pit mining at the site.
Much of that mining workforce is expected to come from surrounding communities in Lyon and Churchill counties. Those workers are expected to commute to the site just outside of Yerington. Nevada Copper also has had initial discussions with developers who may erect apartments once mining begins.
“We expect a lot of people to relocate,” Dyhr says. “It is like Elko and Winnemucca. When construction people come in they will stay in motels.”
Next up for Nevada Copper is to begin construction of a mill to process copper ore from Pumpkin Hollow. The construction workforce for the underground operation is expected to be between 200 to 500 tradesmen. Nevada Copper expects to break ground on the mill in March.
The mill will be able to process 6,500 tons a day. Ore will be processed into a copper concentrate that will be exported to foreign markets.
If the company wins a land-conveyance bill to allow for an open-pit operation, though, daily throughput could be as much as 70,000 tons of ore per day.
“It will make a big difference to us as a company,” Dyhr says. “Stage 2 is by far the largest component.”