Virginia City residents fear new mine will kill tourism

VIRGINIA CITY — More than 150 years after the discovery of one of the world’s richest silver veins touched off a mining frenzy that drew thousands of people west and made Virginia City a wealthy boomtown, a mining company wants to resume digging for riches in the dusty hills southeast of Reno.

But unlike the scrappy miners who used picks and shovels to chisel away at the massive, underground pocket of silver and gold known as the Comstock Lode, the company’s plans are for open pit mining. They aren’t being met with open arms.

Residents in the historic Comstock region embrace the catacombs of century-old mines with pride and purpose. But these days, it’s not wealth from gold and silver but the mining of tourists lured by the rich history of the Old West that keep the town humming.

Tours are conducted in an old underground mine beneath a saloon, and The Way It Was Museum displays artifacts from the past. Camel and outhouse races and a Rocky Mountain oyster festival keep tourists coming to take a "Step Back in Time" — the region’s marketing slogan.

Residents fear that the Virginia City image is threatened by the Comstock Mining Co.’s proposal to use earth-moving machinery to dig up truckloads of earth and process the loads to extract flecks of the minerals that have reached record prices.

With the stock market fluctuating wildly, the price of gold soared last week, setting new records — $1,800 an ounce on Wednesday, for example.

Using high-tech modern mapping techniques and historic records, the company says it has identified roughly $2.8 billion in gold, if prices hold around $1,750 per ounce. That’s roughly double the price the company estimated was needed to make the venture profitable.

Doug McQuide, Comstock public relations director, said the company hopes to begin production sometime this year.

Comstock thinks modern mining can coexist with history and complement the tourist trade, he said.

The company purchased the historic Gold Hill Hotel, and has invested in shoring up old mill sites to preserve the region’s history. "We want to be overwhelmingly supported" by the community, McQuide said.

But it has been a tough sell.

For many folks in Virginia City, Gold Hill and Silver City, the idea of open pit mining in this state and national historic district is repugnant.

"Mining does work for Nevada," said Daan Eggenberger, proprietor of the restored Tahoe House Hotel, an antique-laden lodge on Virginia City’s main drag. "It just doesn’t work in a historic district."

The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Virginia City to its 2009 list of a dozen "Distinctive Destinations" across the country. The historic mining boomtown still boasts mines, mansions, saloons and museums that provide a glimpse into frontier life.

Founded with the discovery of the Comstock Lode in 1859, Virginia City made so many millionaires that the town was called "The Richest Place on Earth."

The wealth it generated helped finance the Union cause during the Civil War and to build San Francisco and the Bay Area.

In Gold Hill and Silver City, tiny towns a few miles down a twisting highway from Virginia City, residents say their serenity was disturbed last fall when Comstock Mining renewed exploration drilling at an existing site, and disclosed it had begun exploration on parts of mining claims it has acquired covering 6,100 acres. Of that, about 1,000 acres is on private property; the rest is public land.

Residents formed the Comstock Residents Association to fight the company’s plan.

Storey County Sheriff Gerald Antinoro understands the dispute.

From a bluff outside his front door, he overlooks a canyon to the hills on the other side where heavy equipment has carved a dirt road up the steep slope. For a time, a test drill was erected a stone’s throw from his front door. He hears the engines, the warning backup beeps, sees the dust.

He’s not against mining.

"I’m not an opponent and I’m not a proponent," Antinoro said. But he’s un­satisfied with the company response when he asks how the landscape will be restored once the gold and silver play out.

Comstock Mining has applied to Storey County for a special use permit to expand its exploration drilling. A five-hour hearing on that application drew an over­flowing, heavily anti-mining crowd on July 7. The hearing continues Thursday.

Corrado De Gasperis, Comstock president and chief executive officer, tried to assure residents and planning commissioners the company wants to be good neighbors.

"We care very much about the rich mining and natural history of the Comstock," he said. "We want to be judged by our actions."

Robin Cobbey, 62, who lives with her husband David Toll in Gold Hill, presented the planning commission with a petition signed by more than 300 opponents.

"One thing that is clear is that the residents of the area don’t want this," Cobbey said.

Signs have sprung up around town reading, "No Open Pit."

McQuide said the company’s plan is to begin with a "starter mine," a pit of about 30 acres and roughly 250 feet deep, but he said there’s no plan to excavate the entire region. Underground mining techniques would be used to mine areas near Virginia City and Gold Hill, he said.

Of the total acreage, "probably less than 10 percent is envisioned as even targeted for pit mining," McQuide said.

Residents also question how mining can be allowed in a region that includes Superfund sites designated in 1990. They want extensive environmental studies.

The state has issued a permit for mercury emissions controls. Another general air quality permit is pending. But officials said the state lacks authority to require a full environmental study, something that would be required to mine on federal lands.

So far, all of Comstock’s activities, except for some exploration, are on private lands.

Behre Dolbear, a worldwide mining technical consulting group, said the Comstock project could conceivably double the precious metals it has estimated.

But that doesn’t sway opponents.

"Virginia City is a changed place now, it’s a tourism destination," said Chris Chrystal, recently retired from the Nevada Commission on Tourism. "It would not be a good idea to hurt one economic contributor for the gain of another."

Man killed during road-rage incident
Las Vegas police are looking for two men involved in the shooting death of a man outside a 7-Eleven story at Bonanza Road and Maryland Parkway on Nov. 12, 2018. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System hosts Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ
The 4th Annual Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ is held in celebration of Veterans Day at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System Medical Center in North Las Vegas, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wildfires in Southern California
Wildfires hit Ventura County, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2018. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dedication of Nevada's Battle Born memorial
The state of Nevada on Friday dedicated its Battle Born memorial honoring 895 state residents who have died in America’s wars.
Las Vegas police and Sunrise Children's Hospital hope to prevent infant deaths
The Metropolitan Police Department and Sunrise Children's Hospital held a press conference to get the message out on preventable infant deaths attributed to "co-sleeping" and other unsafe sleeping habits. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
No serious injuries after car hits tree in south Las Vegas
One person reported minor injuries but wasn’t hospitalized after a Wednesday morning crash in the south valley.
Nellis Air Force Base keeps airmen fed
Nellis Air Force Bass airmen have delicious and healthy food items, and a variety of dining facilities to choose from. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Las Vegas police determined that a suspicious package found Monday morning at a central valley post office was not a threat.
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Police evacuated the area around the Garside Station post office early Monday morning near Oakey and Decatur boulevards.
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
Las Vegas family shares flu warning
Carlo and Brenda Occhipinti lost their son, Carlo Jr., or “Junior,” to the flu last year.
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Stadust Raceway
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on the TV show "Bonanza," and the actor's passion for auto racing at Stardust International Raceway in Las Vegas during the 1960s. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal.)
Project Neon 85 percent complete
On Wednesday morning Oct. 31, Interstate 15 northbound lane restrictions were removed opening up Exit 41 to Charleston Blvd. On Thursday Nov. 1, Interstate 15 southbound lane restrictions were removed. The new southbound off-ramp to Sahara Ave. and Highland Dr. also opened Thursday, November 1. With Project Neon 85% finished the flow of traffic on Interstate 15 has substantially diminished. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Girl killed after jumping from bridge onto 215 Beltway in Henderson
Eastbound lanes of the 215 Beltway are shut down by the Nevada Highway Patrol after a female juvenile jumped from the 215 overpass at Stephanie and was struck by a FedEx tractor trailer. Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal @Vegas88s
Kristallnacht story
An interview with 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Alexander Kuechel who survived seven concentration camps and didn’t leave Germany until after World War II was over. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1 dead in central Las Vegas crash
An early Wednesday morning crash left at least one person dead and another injured. The crash was reported just around 3 a.m. at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Swenson Street. At least two vehicles were involved in the crash, one of which caught fire. Debris was scattered across the intersection as police combed the area as they investigated the scene. Flamingo is blocked in both directions between Swenson and Cambridge Street. Northbound Swenson is blocked at the intersection.
Richard Knoeppel named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year
Richard Knoeppel, an architecture design instructor at the Advanced technologies Academy, named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mojave Poppy Bees
(Zach Portman/University of Minnesota Department of Entomology) Male Mojave poppy bees exhibit territorial fighting behavior. The Center for Biological Diversity wants the bee, found only in Clark County, to be added to the endangered species list.
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like