The Nevada Environmental Commission last week rejected arguments by a residents’ group seeking to overturn a reclamation permit issued last December to Comstock Mining, Inc.
The permit allows the company to explore for minerals in an area of Lyon County.
The Reno Gazette-Journal reported Monday that residents of nearby Gold Hill and Silver City plan to press their claims that mining in the region could release harmful contaminants and put the public’s health at risk.
The Comstock Residents Association will continue to battle the proposal through a separate-but-related appeal, the status of which was unresolved during Friday’s hearing in Reno. A hearing on that appeal could occur in April.
The group argues that road construction, exploratory drilling and related activity could release mercury, lead and arsenic — contaminants associated with historic Comstock mining activity 150 years ago — putting residents at risk. The area was declared Nevada’s first federal Superfund Site in 1995.
“There is substantial concern about public health and safety,” said John Marshall, an attorney for the Comstock Residents Association. “There is no debate whether or not this is toxic material. There is substantial risk these toxic materials will be released.”
Marshall said concern is particularly acute because affected residents are “living in the middle of a Superfund Site.”
Carolyn McIntosh, an attorney for Comstock Mining, countered that exact boundaries of the Superfund Site are unclear and said the primary risk to the public associated with historic mining identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is associated with the consumption of mercury-laden fish taken from the Carson River and Lahontan Reservoir.
Exploratory activity allowed through the reclamation permit will help identify where pollutants like mercury are located, said Cassandra Phillips, deputy attorney general for the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection. She said ensuring those areas are safe will be required before any drilling can occur.
“Before they can even dig to find the gold ... they first have to sample,” she said.
Mark Turner, a member of the Environmental Commission, said he’s convinced the state is taking proper steps to protect residents in the area from environmental harm.
“I feel very strongly NDEP has gone to great lengths to protect people in Nevada and they would not take this matter lightly,” Turner said.
Friday’s hearing came three days after the state issued Comstock Mining an air quality permit necessary for mining to begin at a 180-acre startup site located in Storey County near the town of Gold Hill.
Gold and silver will be mined from an open pit about 30 acres in size and between 300 and 450-feet deep, company officials said.
New estimates from Comstock Mining place the value of gold and silver deposits in the area at about $3 billion.
Last week the company announced it had raised $15 million from U.S.-based investors, and that the money would be used to focus on mineral exploration across its 6,100-acre project area.