Exploration company Great Western Mining and its partner Muletown Enterprizes, which are constructing a gold and silver mill at Sodaville, close to Mina in Mineral county, Nevada, are expecting delays in acquiring the necessary regulatory protocols.
In line with regulations, a visit for a provisional inspection by the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection (NDEP) is scheduled before the end of August.
However, the joint venture (JV) partners expect that NDEP approval is likely to encounter a delay of about two months.
The interests of Great Western and Muletown are held through equal shares in newly created JV Western Milling. Great Western has fulfilled the terms of an earn-in to this venture and is a 50% interest holder in the new entity.
"Delays are always disappointing but in this case have been beyond the company's control. All the ingredients are in place to move forward and the Western Milling JV remains an exciting project and a top priority for Great Western. Costs are being carefully controlled and we plan to be ready for first production by the time regulatory approval has been secured. We cannot guarantee the timing of this approval but our aim is to be in production this year," says Great Western chairperson Brian Hall.
When a production application was submitted to NDEP, the indicated turnaround estimate for receiving a permit was six months and finalisation was estimated to be this month.
However, NDEP has recently advised that a heavy workload and staff shortages will delay this by at least two more months. The additional time will be well used to complete the project in the most effective manner, Hall explains.
The new mill will produce gold and silver concentrates from spoil heaps left over from historic gold and silver mining operations on claims held by Great Western, together with tailings, unprocessed stockpiles and eventually newly mined shallow ore.
When the plant is operational, it will transform Great Western from a pure mineral exploration company to combined exploration, appraisal and production.
The process equipment has been assembled adjacent to the site and is now poised for installation. The foundational work has been executed, accompanied by the concreting of foundations and the erection of retaining walls. Integral to the project, water boreholes and water monitoring wells have been concreted and brought to completion.
In terms of accessibility and logistics, the project has seen the completion of access roads and a designated laydown area. As environmental standards take precedence, a final concrete pour remains pending once the contractor aligns with the necessary requirements.
Following this crucial concrete pour, the subsequent steps will involve the assembly and comprehensive testing of the plant, ensuring its operational efficacy.
The mill is being constructed on a naturally formed rock feature, adjacent to and within reach of a major highway, which has been used for milling operations in the past. The mill site is on private land owned by Muletown, which it is leasing to Great Western for a nominal rent.
Mains power is available and there is an abundant supply of water in the immediate area. The first phase of production is a simple gravity separation plant, for which a production permit application was lodged with NDEP early this year. A planning permit for the mill has already been approved but production startup is dependent on receiving NDEP consent.
In the second phase, tailings will be processed through an encapsulated chemical leaching plant for further recovery of precious metals. As this second phase will be more environmentally sensitive than gravity separation, the JV aims to speed up the application process by applying only for gravity separation in the first instance, with a view to achieving an earlier startup date for first production.
Once the gravity permit has been received, an application for chemical leaching will be filed with NDEP. In the meantime, the plant has been designed and is being built to cater for chemical leaching so that the second phase, when approved, can be brought into production with minimal delay and additional cost.
Under the JV arrangement, Muletown is not only providing the mill site at a nominal rent but also almost all the equipment needed for the milling plant from its own extensive inventory, together with day-to-day supervision of plant construction and operations.
The main items that have been provided by Muletown are a jaw crusher, a conveyor belt, a rod mill, hydrocyclones, spirals, generators, water tanks, a shaker table and a near-site laboratory, together with numerous smaller items.
Some of the main items, such as the jaw crusher and the shaker table, are materially oversized and lend themselves to an expanded project in the future.
Great Western is funding site construction and the upgrading, modification and installation of the mill equipment for use on site.
To meet environmental requirements, the final concrete pour cannot be carried out piecemeal and requires a continuous pour with several concrete mixer trucks operating in tandem, the closest contractor being a two-hour drive from its base to the Western Milling site.
Owing to high construction demand in the area and, owing to a scarcity of local contractors, it has not been possible yet to organise this final pour except at an unacceptable premium to normal market rates.
Accordingly, Western Milling has renovated and commissioned a concrete plant on site, which it has now used to lay foundations and complete groundwork. When a contractor is available for the final part of the job, Western Milling's own plant will supplement this operation and reduce the number of external truckloads required.
The JV says that, currently, there is no agreed date for the operation but that it is a very high priority and will be carried out as soon as it can be arranged.