Big Plans Revealed for the Camp Bird Mine
by Samantha Wright
Sep 13, 2012 | 6596 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HISTORIC RENOVATION – Kunz Construction of Ouray has been hired to renovate the elegant and picturesque historic buildings at the 14 level of the Camp Bird Mine. The buildings date back to 1903 – just after the mine’s founder Thomas Walsh sold his property for millions. Now, the mine has sold once more in a deal that is set to close later this month. Pictured is Ouray native Adam Kunz who is at the helm of the restoration effort. Community members enjoyed a tour of the Camp Bird property on Monday this week. (Photo by Samantha Wright)
HISTORIC RENOVATION – Kunz Construction of Ouray has been hired to renovate the elegant and picturesque historic buildings at the 14 level of the Camp Bird Mine. The buildings date back to 1903 – just after the mine’s founder Thomas Walsh sold his property for millions. Now, the mine has sold once more in a deal that is set to close later this month. Pictured is Ouray native Adam Kunz who is at the helm of the restoration effort. Community members enjoyed a tour of the Camp Bird property on Monday this week. (Photo by Samantha Wright)
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OLD AND NEW – Local historian George Moore of the Ouray County Historical Society listens carefully to what Caldera Mineral Resources Project Manager Gary Gough has to say about his company’s plans for restoring the Camp Bird Mine to operation. The two are standing on a waste rock pile outside the 14 level portal which has collapsed since the mine closed in 1990. (Photo by Samantha Wright)
OLD AND NEW – Local historian George Moore of the Ouray County Historical Society listens carefully to what Caldera Mineral Resources Project Manager Gary Gough has to say about his company’s plans for restoring the Camp Bird Mine to operation. The two are standing on a waste rock pile outside the 14 level portal which has collapsed since the mine closed in 1990. (Photo by Samantha Wright)
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OURAY – In a deal that is set to finalize on Sept. 22, the newly formed Caldera Mineral Resources LLC, publicly confirmed this week that it is poised to acquire Ouray’s most famous historic mine, and will attempt to bring it back into operation.

Community leaders gathered at the Ouray Community Center on Monday to meet with the new owners of the Camp Bird Mine and learn more about their plans, which, best case scenario, could employ up to 70 miners and mill workers year-round.

Caldera’s CEO, John Bryan, was overseas meeting with investors and unable to attend the gathering. Instead, Project Manager Gary Gough and Chief Financial Officer/co-owner Sturges Karban presented background information about their plans for the legendary property near Ouray.

“Caldera looks forward to becoming a stakeholder in the community,” Karban said. “We’re excited at the prospect of digging in.”

Before that can happen, Caldera must get the stamp of approval from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety for a technical revision filed in mid-August, outlining the scope of its intended plans at the Camp Bird Mine. As reported in last week’s Watch, items in the technical revision include rehabilitating the 14 level portal opening and tunnel, addressing drainage issues and building a settling pond. The company also intends to renovate historic buildings on the property which are still structurally sound.

As of this Tuesday, DRMS’s approval was still pending. Bob Oswald, a Durango-based DRMS Environmental Protection Specialist who is processing the technical revision, said that a few “adequacy issues” still need to be addressed.

Oswald also ordered that five consecutive quarters of hydrologic monitoring data be conducted at the 14 level portal, out of which a considerable stream of water is now flowing, to demonstrate baseline conditions before active mining may get underway. However, he added, Caldera’s proposed settling pond, portal and tunnel rehab work may commence upon approval of the technical revision.

Once the approval comes through, this work can continue throughout the winter.

A freelance documentary filmmaker will chronicle the mine’s progress, said Karban, who in addition to his background in investment banking and real estate development has ties to the LA movie industry (his company Blackacre Entertainment executive produced the 2012 feature film Shadows and Lies starring James Franco). “It occurred to all of us, what is happening here is a pretty compelling story.”



Leadership group



Caldera CEO Anthony J.A. “John” Bryan boasts a lifetime of high-profile corporate leadership experience which includes, among other things, an almost three-decade stint as Vice President, International Division General Manager, and member of the Board of Directors of Monsanto Company from 1948 to 1973. According to his resume, he has been the CEO of several Fortune 500 and international companies in the oil services and steel sectors, and has served on the Board of Directors of corporate giants including Federal Express, Chrysler and ITT. Currently, Bryan heads The Watley Group, LLC, a Los Angeles, London, and Singapore recapitalization firm.

In 2011, Karban partnered with Bryan and The Watley Group in a roll-up of distressed mining operations. The first acquisition was the Camp Bird Mine. The company is also eyeing other mining operations that are either in foreclosure or severe distress.

Caldera’s Chief Administrative Officer is Laurens Nuyens, who also holds a leadership role at The Watley Group.

Ronald “Bumper” Williams of Ouray is Caldera’s Vice President of Operations. Other key Caldera players include senior mining advisor Cherie Tilley and lead geologist Hal Gardner, both of Salt Lake City-based Tilley Exploration and Development Co. LLC, permitting/environmental specialists Mike Thompson and Karmen King of the Cortez-based company Reardon Steel LLC, and geology and mine development specialists Bob and Pam Larson of the Ouray-based Monadnock Mineral Services LLC.

In late August, this leadership group came together in Ouray to create a mission statement and culture statement for the Camp Bird project.

The mission statement stresses Caldera’s commitment to become a “regional leader in discovery, extraction and processing of precious, critical and strategic metals.”

Using buzzwords like “responsible stewardship”, “commitment”, and “passion”, Karban said, “This is the culture we want to build in this business. We want to hire and invest locally, think long term, be transparent, and be accountable. We are not here to flip the property. We are here to develop a strategy and execute that strategy over the long term.”

Karban also stressed the company’s commitment to “act as responsible custodians of all environmental assets.”



Local players



Other local businesses involved in the Camp Bird project at this point include Blackford’s Welding & Construction LLC, tasked with improving access to the property, Elite Welding which will be constructing a new portal shelter, and Kunz Construction, hired to renovate the elegant and picturesque historic buildings on the site, including the old mine manager’s house and office building.

“The intent is to refurbish what we can of the buildings,” Gough said. “We have been very surprised and pleased that the interiors are in such good shape. These buildings are a  living piece of the history of the mine as well as of the City of Ouray and therefore should be restored to their original period condition.”

Once renovation is complete, Gough said that certain portions of the buildings will be made available for “non-invasive functional use” such as employee housing, offices, and geological archives. Other square footage allocations may include a museum and gift shop to complement the pre-existing 4WD touring business that already crosses through the Camp Bird Mine property.

All historic building rehabilitation work will be supervised by Pam Larson.

Looking toward the underground, the 14 level portal has collapsed and requires excavation to open it back up. The water pouring out of the portal is of surprisingly excellent quality, Gough added. It currently flows untreated into Imogene Creek.

Once the portal is opened, however, the water will be diverted into a settling pond, and treated for use in the home and office buildings.

County Road 361, which passes directly through the mining camp on its way up to Imogene Pass, belongs to the county. Last summer, vandals barraged the buildings, shattering their windows with rocks and bullets, looting their interiors and exposing them to the elements.

Gough acknowledged that while Caldera is concerned about security on the site, the company also desires to maintain the integrity and beauty of the area. Toward this end, he said, “We will not put up razor fence, but rather a combination of boulders and old railings that fit into the historical nature of the mine.”

Gough added that Caldera has no plans to re-route CR 361 away from the buildings.



Local response



Those attending Monday’s meeting and a subsequent property tour appeared to be generally supportive of the idea of the Camp Bird Mine re-opening.

One concern voiced by 4WD tour operator Brandy Ross had to do with Caldera’s stated intent to improve access to its property by taming parts of the Camp Bird Road and Imogene Pass.

“We are not trying to make a freeway up there,” Gough assured Ross. “But we will have to do some work to make it more accessible” – particularly that portion of CR 361 that connects the Camp Bird Mine’s 14 level and its upper workings in Imogene Basin.

“Our intent is to operate the mine, and make it [the road] usable for us,” he added.

In response to a question about the venture’s financing, CFO Karban shared few details, other than to say that Caldera is fully funded and has a 20-plus year relationship with its investor group, some of whom are overseas. These investors have invested into Caldera Holdings, LLC, a Colorado-based holding company, while Caldera Mineral Resources is an operating company.

“We are unified and aligned in the same direction,” Karban stressed. “We all have skin in the game, along with our outside investors.”

Karban did not dismiss the possibility that the company could someday go public. “It is certainly something we would consider, but that’s almost like figuring out where to have your graduation party on first day of freshman year,” he joked.

Regarding the profitability and viability of the venture, Karban pointed to the historic high prices of gold and other precious metals. “The price of gold determines its profitability,” he said. “We feel very strongly the resources are there to make the mine very profitable.”

Alluding to mineral exploration reports from the early 1980s, he told The Watch, “We have some indication of reserves, but we don’t want to put that in the public record. It’s safe to say, if the resource is there in the quantity we hope it to be, this will be a very long-term operation.”

Those reports indicate “a number of target areas” within the historic mine workings, Gough added. “There are indications of gold, silver, lead, zinc and copper,” he said. “If we end up finding rare earths as well, we will take those too. We are not discriminatory.”

The “lowest hanging fruit” could well be the copious mine tailings surrounding the 14 level of the Camp Bird Mine, which – subject to permitting – could be reprocessed to extract leftover precious metals, the same approach taken by the mine’s famous founder Thomas Walsh in 1897 to finance development of his mine in its infancy.

Should the Camp Bird Mine succeed in once again reaching a steady state production capacity, Karban said there could be a “substantial” hiring base. “If everything goes the way we anticipate, with three daily shifts and a potential mill, that could mean as many as 70 workers,” he told The Watch. “It’s hard to say exactly.”

But, Gough added, it will take some time to get there. Currently the mine employs a crew of four miners working under Bumper Williams. This small crew will work through the winter to open up the mine. After that will come an exploration phase. “As we find out and identify our resources, that determines what happens next,” Gough said. “Hiring is very open-ended.”



Status



Caldera is in the process of purchasing the Camp Bird property in a majority acquisition deal. “We are doing a blanket transaction that includes all of the existing claims – just over 11,000 acres,” Karban said. The sale price is subject to a nondisclosure agreement.

Permitting matters will remain in the name of the mine’s former owner, Camp Bird Colorado, Inc. (a wholly owned subsidiary of Federal Resources) for the time being. “But we (Caldera) are in the driver’s seat and control everything,” Karban said.

Federal Resources’ majority shareholder, Bentley Blum, confirmed on Monday that “a sale is in process” but declined to comment further until the deal is done.

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