Claim holders and private landowners from Madison County and beyond are cashing in their old mine tailings for profit at the Golden Sunlight Mine in Whitehall.
Mark Thompson, environmental superintendent for Golden Sunlight and vice president of the Montana Mining Association, explained that through June of 2012 the mine has processed approximately 274,000 tons of ore from offsite locations. With 32 truckloads coming in per day, the mine is operating at capacity for what they are able to reprocess from other mining operations.
“They started looking at some of the legacy material on their claims, and with the current commodity price for gold some of that material is economic for them to load up and transport here to Golden Sunlight,” Thompson said.
“The gold content is in the finer material, so a lot of the people that are shipping us ore are screening it on site and then load it up in a truck and send it to us,” he explained. “We purchase that ore from them based on grade and estimated recoveries, and then we reprocess it and recover the gold value from it.”
The mine has been reprocessing old tailings since the early 2000s, Thomson said, adding that there was minimal interest at first with only a handful of mining operations sending them material.
After resuming operations following a brief shut down in 2008, Golden Sunlight has seen an increase in the material they receive from regional mining operations. This includes projects in Mammoth, Radersburg, and Rochester Basin as well as projects near Missoula and Helena.
“When it comes here, its processed with our own ore and put into a fully lined and bonded tailings storage facility that has a very comprehensive reclamation plan associated with it,” Thompson said. “As the gold price has been increasing, more of this material is economic.”
“It’s just a great project. It’s a win for the environment, it’s a win for taxpayers, a win for the claim holders,” he said.
Golden Sunlight was recently awarded a national hard-rock mining environmental award from the Bureau of Land Management.
“Any time you get an opportunity to be part of a project where you’re taking a liability and turning it into an asset, it kind of makes you grin,” Thompson said.