Miners gamble on gold in Washington
6/12/2012 2:36 PM
Sample drilling begins near Wenatchee in the Cascade foothills
By SARAH REIJONEN
For the GPAA
Only time, sweat and money will tell whether the Gold Belt of Wenatchee, Wash. is aptly named.
And, Lovitt Resources is well on its way to finding out.
“It’s a true statement that there’s billions of dollars in gold in Wenatchee, but it’s difficult to say whether it’s worth mining commercially,” said Lovitt Resources Ltd. President Lorne Brown.
The Chelan County Community Development Department recently issued the Canadian-owned company a permit for drilling through 2012.
Already, Brown and his associates have discovered ore grade material using diamond-tipped drills at the Lovitt Mine. They have found an average of 0.33 ounces per ton of gold and 0.82 ounces per ton of silver within a 226-pound sample of multiple drill points as of April 9. The company also plans to move forward with sample drilling at the Matthew property, a mine that is approximately a mile and a half from the Wenatchee Gold Belt.
Findings must be substantial to proceed with commercial extraction, as each hole costs nearly $120,000 to drill, Brown said.
With the nearby Lovitt and Cannon Mines producing a combined 1.6 million ounces of gold spread across 35 acres and 40 years of mining, Brown is hopeful.
“It is a good bet that there’s a lot more gold in the area,” he said.
Gold was first discovered on the Lovitt Mine property in 1865 by Chinese working on the transcontinental railway. A small gold operation opened up prior to the 1900s, but Lovitt Mine was not commercially managed until the 1950s when Ed Lovitt raised funds and began digging in.
Lovitt’s operation discovered a pocket of gold and silver in 1959 referred to as “Nellie’s Room.” Today that pocket would be worth $30 million. In total, more than 400,000 ounces of gold were recovered in a 17-year span. When mining came to a halt in 1967, Lovitt Mine was the sixth largest underground gold mine in the United States.
Diamond drilling in the early ’80s started up again and suggested there was still gold to be found; one hole intersected 60 feet of more than one ounce of gold per ton. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, miners pulled 1.1 million ounces of gold from the Cannon Mine, which is next to the Lovitt Mine. Even in the early ’90s consulting geologist A.A. Burgoyne summarized that there was still 400,000 ounces of gold within Lovitt Mine.
With exploration beginning once again, Brown said Lovitt Resources has only faced a few community concerns including questions about noise, environmental impact and money being taken out of the region and country.
Brown addressed those issues and said the drilling area is in a remote area and will not disturb any of its far-off neighbors. As for environmental impact, he said nothing is being added to the ground, only taken. Even if sufficient gold was found and mining took place the impact would not surpass driving one’s car to and from work on a daily basis, Brown said.
Karen Peele, current planning manager of Chelan County, said the main opposition she heard had to do with the water supply. Community members were concerned that drilling would deplete or contaminate their wells. After contacting the Department of Geology, Peele and her committee concluded that this was not the case.
Though Lovitt Resources is a Canadian-based company, many of the family members who first came to mine in Wenatchee in 1949 still live within the community and the company itself is deeply invested in the area. Brown said although the company would profit from gold findings, it is also likely that funds would be reinvested into the community. Wenatchee is a central locale in Washington and brings visitors statewide, especially for high school and college athletic events. Brown said he would like to see a new resort to accommodate those visitors as well as visitors to the Mission Ridge Ski Hill.
Still, all of this is contingent on the big gamble: Finding adequate amounts of gold worthy of commercial mining. If the drilling samples are favorable, Lovitt Resources will hire a larger mining company that is able to extract the gold. The cost of construction alone could cost upwards of $400 million and take two to three years, but it would also employ approximately 800 local workers. With that kind of price tag, Brown said they are more likely to employ a smaller mining operation of 30 workers.
“It all depends,” Peele said. “I know Mr. Brown is very passionate and excited about the project … but the thing to keep in mind is that this is just exploratory at this point.”
Sarah Reijonen is a GPAA member and freelance writer based in California.
As featured in the Pick & Shovel Gazette June/July 2012 issue.