OURAY – The Mt. Sneffels Mining Co., current operator of the small Ruby Trust Mine, has filed a notice of intent with the State of Colorado and U.S. Forest Service to conduct exploratory drilling on patented and unpatented holdings contained in the Sneffels Creek drainage and the Yankee Boy Basin areas approximately five miles southeast of Ouray and four miles northeast of Telluride, on the south side of Mt. Sneffels.
According to Charles Ponchak, a consulting geologist for the Mt. Sneffels Mining Co., the gold and silver exploration plan includes 27 surface drilling sites on 145 acres of patented holdings and another 550 acres of unpatented holdings. He said the exploratory drilling is to evaluate the Ruby Trust Mine’s mineral vein to see if it is economically feasible to extend the mine’s operation across its holdings.
“It is a good ore body they are mining right now,” Ponchak said in an interview on Tuesday. “We came up with a program to evaluate the vein to see if we can extend that [mining] on the length of the property.”
The plan encompasses approximately 60,000-75,000 feet of diamond drilling at a cost of $5-6 million and should begin this year. The exploration will take three to four years to complete, during the summer season. Since the additional 550 acres of unpatented mining claims are on U.S. Forest Service land, the company has filed a Plan of Operations with the U.S. Forest Service as have also filed the Notice of Intent to conduct exploration with the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety.
The plan was discussed at Monday’s meeting of the Ouray Board of County Commissioners; county staff was directed by the commissioners to investigate what regulatory role the county should or is required to provide.
“I would like to ask staff to make a thorough review of what can and can’t be done and what implications there might be,” Commissioner Keith Meinert said. “This could potentially be a very contentious and interesting issue to a number of people, particularly to the City of Ouray, because it could be a disruption for a period of three to four years of the tourism activity up in Yankee Boy Basin.”
While all three commissioners expressed concern over the details of the exploration plan, the discussion at Monday’s meeting mainly surrounded what steps the county should take first, in reviewing the plan. Both Meinert and Commissioner Heidi Albritton agreed that county staff should analyze what land use issues might come into play, as well as determine what regulatory responsibilities the county has in the matter. Commissioner Lynn Padgett suggested that the commissioners call a meeting with the mining company, USFS and officials from the CDRMS to discuss the plan as well as the permitting process.
“I think we need to make sure we understand more of the details,” Padgett said, “and facilitate a workshop.”
“I am weary of extending our scope past that of the county,” Albritton said, adding the commissioners have heard “some concerns voiced from the mining community that we aren’t supportive of mining. I would be hesitant to reach out without knowing what our jurisdiction is. I would like to have that sense before we reach out to get other parties involved. Let’s focus on what the county’s role is first.”
Ponchak said the mining operation and its potential expanded operation is and will remain small-scale. The mine’s tailings will be stored in a stope – a formerly mined nearby vein that can, Ponchak said, hold all the tailings the operation will ever produce; the mine’s mill has been built to process only 50 tons of ore a day.
“You pretty much won’t even know it’s there,” he said. “The operation will never be that big and is pretty much non-intrusive the way it is designed. Fifty tons a day is not that much.”
If the state and USFS issues the required permits for exploration, drilling should begin as soon as the roads into the area are open and accessible. According to the plan description issued to the county commissioners and made public on Monday, four drill rigs will be employed, running 24/7. All drilling will employ a diamond-core drill, reaching depths of 200 to 2,000 feet. Extracted cores will be stored, evaluated and processed at the Ruby Trust Mine and Mt. Sneffels Mining Co. assay lab in Ouray. Water for the drilling operations, according to the plan, will be taken from the Ruby Trust Mine’s potable water supply. With four drills running, several thousand gallons of water will be used each day. Water will be transported from the mine to the drill sites by water trucks and all the drilling water will be recycled. Water from the drilling will not be allowed to enter the surface water drainage system.
Most of the drill rigs will be manned by a driller and a helper during each eight-hour shift, and the exploration project will employ 35- 40 people, in addition to the 12-15 employees already working at the Ruby Trust Mine.
“There will be some benefit, employment-wise, to the county,” Ponchak said. “I know there are a lot of guys looking for work and I am sure that it will be a top priority to get local people to work.”
The Mt. Company Sneffels Mining, based in Avon Park, Fla., is owned by three partners who purchased the company in 2007 from the Walker Mining Co. The exploration narrative plan and map are available for public viewing at the Ouray County Courthouse in Ouray and the county’s Land Use building at 111 Mall Road in Ridgway.