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Old Nevada gold mine eyeing profitable rebirth

SEARCHLIGHT — For more than a century, the Quartette Mine has gone through good times and bad.

The gold mine on the southern edge of Searchlight was an economic boom for the region, starting in the 1890s. By 1913, setbacks hit. Workers clashed with the owners in labor disputes and mining equipment sabotage. To settle its debt, the owners deeded the property over to their lender, the Searchlight Mercantile Co.

One hundred years and three generations later, a combination of family ties, unusual geology and years of exploration appears to be on the verge of turning around the gold mine’s fortunes.

If all goes well, it will be processing ore in September under the watch of L.R. Tad Tinnell, president of Jetco Enterprises Inc. Eventually, the company plans to dig an open-pit mine at the site after going through tailings and ore that’s close to the surface.

“It just so happens these old-timers had a series of setbacks back then,” Tinnell said in an interview. “That’s preserved the ore for us.”

It’s one of a couple of new mining efforts in the region. Another is north of Searchlight, with yet another across the Colorado River and east of Bullhead City, Ariz.

NOT MANY GOLD MINES HERE

Gold mining is rare in Southern Nevada. The area generally lacks the rock type that contains gold deposits. Restrictions on federal wilderness areas and protections for the desert tortoise also play a role.

Gold veins in the region are generally small and erratic in length and height, said Bill Durbin, a geologist and chief of Southern Nevada operations for the Nevada Division of Minerals.

“When that was exhausted, they packed up and moved elsewhere,” he said, referring to the Quartette Mine.

Tinnell has long eyed the mine. From 1993 to 1995, he explored and drilled on the property, which was still owned by Searchlight Mercantile. He abandoned this exploration after a cave-in during some underground mining.

He has returned to the mine as the price of gold has increased in recent years. While the price has dropped in the past year, it is still well above lows reached in the 1990s.

In August 2011, Tinnell got a lease from the owners: family members of his former wife and also descendants of B.F. Miller, the original owner of the Searchlight Mercantile.

“I’m happy for the whole family,” Tinnell said. “They’ve waited for a hundred years to get something out of this place.”

Mine returning to life

Two years ago, the mine was a barren patch of desert populated with jackrabbits and rattlesnakes. A rickety wooden hoist for hauling ore still lingers on the landscape, a remnant of the region’s mining history.

Now, eight workers are setting up equipment at the mine. Thirty employees will handle the ore in a 24-hour operation, which will process 10 tons of ore an hour.

The mine has tons of tailings from past mining to go through. Tinnell pointed out signs of precious metals — white lines along ridges and blue and red markings on rocks. Initially, the company expects to handle 3,000 to 6,000 ounces of gold and silver a year.

First, the rock will be blasted and crushed into gravel and turned into powder. Powered by a 500-kilowatt diesel generator, the mine will use a gravity separation process to sift the gold, silver and copper from lighter minerals. The ore will go through a self-contained water system, that separates out the heavier and more precious metals. The water, which has no chemicals, will be reused throughout the process. Initially, the operation’s mill will process 10 tons of ore an hour.

From there, the powder — a mix of gold, silver and base metals — will be melted into bars and shipped to a refinery, which will separate the minerals.

MINE RICH IN HISTORY

Signs of the mine’s history abound. The equipment is new, but rests on century-old foundations.

That story isn’t lost on Caydn Mulligan, 22, the son of Heidi Mulligan, a stockholder of Searchlight Mercantile. Caydn and Tim Gertz, two future employees at the mine, are great-grandsons to B.F. Miller.

“Obviously, he saw something in it,” said Gertz, 25. “We had a chance to come out here and work on the same land our family has owned for going on 100 years.”

The tailings aren’t the only part of the mine with potential. Eventually, Tinnell intends to have an open-pit operation that is about 400 feet deep and 500 feet wide.

The county has approved his application for a permit. Other environmental and federal permit applications are pending.

OTHER MINES

That’s not the only mine effort underway in Searchlight. The county in May approved an application for a permit for a project on the north end of Searchlight, near U.S. Highway 95. The goal of that project, overseen by Nevada Milling & Mining, is to produce gold at an old mine from the early 1900s, using a similar gravity method to process ore. About 40 to 60 employees are anticipated, according to county documents. The company couldn’t be reached for comment.

Northern Vertex, a Canada-based company, plans to expand Moss Mine, an old gold mine 5.7 miles east of Bullhead City, following research at the site that started in 2011.

The mine is expected to produce between 40,000 and 50,000 ounces of gold a year.

“We’ve got some good results,” said J.R.H. “Dick” Whittington, the company’s chief executive officer and president. “Those good results indicate we can extract gold.”

The company formed by the Canada company for the mine is Golden Vertex Corp.

The company is completing its feasibility study and preparing to go on the market and raise capital, Whittington said.

About 40 people are at the mine site, doing preparation work.

Within about 12 to 15 months, company officials anticipate hiring about 200 people.

Meanwhile, exploration is continuing at the site and expansion is the goal for the future.

“We’re doing more drilling,” he said. “Have we found the limit of the deposit? Not at all.”

Contact reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781.

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