A large mountain just north of the Utah-Idaho state line may become a literal gold mine in the next several years – an endeavor that could provide a significant economic boost to Box Elder County.
A Canadian company has been exploring the possibility of bringing a gold-mining operation back to the Black Pine Mountains, which rise prominently on the horizon west of I-84 in Cassia County, Idaho, about 30 miles northwest of Snowville.
From 1992 to 1997, the range was home to a mine operated by Pegasus Gold, which ceased operations due to declining market prices for gold. More recently, Vancouver, British Columbia-based Liberty Gold Corp. and its wholly owned subsidiary Pilot Gold USA, which is based in Elko, Nevada, has been exploring the potential of the Black Pine site.
So far, the company likes what it has found, especially with market gold prices soaring to record highs recently.
“We look for large oxide gold systems, and we think we found one right across the border,” said Pete Shabestari, a geologist and project manager with Pilot Gold USA, in a recent presentation before the Box Elder County Commission.
Shabestari said that because Snowville is the town nearest to the project site and Tremonton is the closest population center, the Box Elder County communities could see a lot of job opportunities and other economic benefits from having the mine nearby.
“We always try to hire local when we can,” he said, estimating that the mine would employ about 500 people during the construction phase and 300 through the life of the mine, which the company estimates would be about 15 years if it is able to meet its annual target production of 200,000 ounces.
Shabestari said Pilot Gold discovered an opportunity at Black Pine in 2016, purchased the company that held it at the time, and immediately started working with the U.S. Forest Service on the permitting process. Last year the company was able to start test drilling at different locations around the 20-square-mile project area.
He said testing to this point has revealed high-quality gold deposits that are “very amenable to extraction,” and because it’s in a remote area that has little surface water or human habitation, the mine would be relatively easy to operate.
“We like technically simple projects, and this one is about as simple as it gets,” he said.
When Pegasus Gold stopped mining at Black Pine in 1997, the market price of gold had fallen to around $300 per ounce. In recent weeks, the price has skyrocketed into the $2,000-per-ounce range.
While higher market prices make mining projects more attractive, Pilot Gold still has a lengthy permitting process to go through to get final approval from federal and state agencies. Because of those requirements, Shabestari said it would probably be another five to seven years before the operation is up and running. The price of gold could look dramatically different by then, but he said current long-term projections are for prices to remain high.
The operation would be an open-pit mine similar to the Rio Tinto Kennecott Copper mine near Salt Lake City, though not as large. The gold would be extracted through a “heap-leach” process, which uses chemicals to separate the gold from other materials in the ground.
One of the biggest challenges is finding enough water to run the operation. Shabestari said it will require approximately 1,500 acre feet of water, most of which would be used for dust suppression.
“We’re trying to identify water rights in the area that we can get, even across the border here in Utah,” he said.
The project area is located on public land, and in terms of environmental impact, he said the company would be required to reclaim all the land it disturbs.
“This was mined before and reclaimed. Other than the open pit, it’s hard to tell they were ever there,” he said. “If and when we mine, we’ll put it back the way it was and there will still be public access.”
In the meantime, the company continues to work through the permitting and test drilling process. Shabestari said Pilot Gold hopes to have a solid estimate of how much gold it will be able to produce by the end of this year, as well as a more detailed analysis of the economic impact it will have.
In any case, he said it would provide a large increase to the tax base of local communities.
“Tremonton and Burley are the closest bigger towns, but Snowville is our go-to,” he said.
Tremonton’s reputation as a hub of artistic expression for northern Utah continues to grow, as evidenced by a heavy piece of hardware the city just earned in an annual statewide competition.
The city’s displays of public art, most notably the murals that adorn buildings all over town, have earned it a Best of State award for the fifth consecutive year.
Every year since 2016, Tremonton has been one of dozens of winners recognized in the Best of State arts and entertainment division. This time around the city took the top prize in the division, the BOSS (Best of State Statue) award, making it one of just a handful of winners statewide.
“It’s a major thing,” City Recreation and Events Manager Zach LeFevre said. “Only 10 of these are given out.”
LeFevre explained the significance of the award while presenting the statue to Mayor Roger Fridal at a Tremonton City Council meeting earlier this month. The bronze trophy, plated with 24-karat gold and affixed to a granite base, weighs in at 22 pounds.
While those familiar with Tremonton already know about the city’s murals, LeFevre said getting Best of State awards five years running has people from around the state and region taking notice as well. The murals have been featured in magazines and on television, including a recent spot on the PBS Utah program “This is Utah.”
Tremonton’s art scene is also gaining momentum through word of mouth among local artists. In June, the city kicked off summer by hosting its annual Midland Square Chalk Affair, a chalk-art contest that started off with a handful of mostly local people. This year, the daylong event at Midland Square park downtown attracted about 40 artists, many of them from the Salt Lake City area.
Seeking to capitalize on its growing reputation, Tremonton in 2018 created an arts council comprised of city officials and staff, as well as members of the community who are involved in visual, performing, musical and other forms of art.
City Manager Shawn Warnke said the council’s efforts have bolstered public art in Tremonton by creating a more organized effort. Warnke also credits individual artists and art organizations, including Jason Nessen, the local artists who has created many of the city’s murals.
A combination of public and private funding has also been a driving force in the overall effort. The city has received grant money from the Box Elder County Tourism Tax Advisory Board and the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, as well as contributions from sponsors including Rocky Mountain Power, Union Pacific Railroad Co., Northrop Grumman Corp. and others.
The newest addition to Tremonton’s burgeoning collection of murals will pay tribute to a local man who became a national hero for his efforts to bring a little bit of joy to downtrodden people in post-World War II Germany.
The city has commissioned Nevada-based artist Erik Burke to paint a mural at 105 W. Main St. depicting Gail “Hal” Halvorsen, a U.S. Air Force pilot from Garland. Halvorsen became known as “The Candy Bomber” for dropping candy attached to mini-parachutes during the Berlin Airlift, an operation by Allied forces to deliver supplies through the air to the people of West Berlin, Germany in 1948 and 1949 while the Soviet Union had blocked other means of access into the city.
The military code name for the Berlin Airlift was “Operation Vittles,” and Halvorsen’s efforts became known as “Operation Little Vittles.” His operation is said to have delivered some 23 tons of Hershey chocolate bars and other candy to people in the city, and earned him other nicknames including “Uncle Wiggly Wings” and “The Chocolate Flier.”
A common theme among the murals found throughout Tremonton is an homage to the heritage of the city and the surrounding Bear River Valley, including prominent historical figures with local ties.
“One of the objectives of the Tremonton City Public Art Program is to celebrate or honor historical images, and noteworthy individuals that are a part of Tremonton City, Bear River Valley, or Box Elder County’s storied past,” a recent city staff report outlining plans for the mural explains.
Halvorsen certainly fits that bill, and in a nod to his military service, the mural will be located across Main Street from the Veterans Memorial at Midland Square.
The new mural will feature a portrait of Halverson based on a photograph, a plane like those he flew during his military service, and Hershey bars falling through the air with outstretched hands reaching out to receive the candy – all set against a gold-foil candy wrapper background, with the foil peeled back at one end to reveal a chocolate bar underneath.
Burke is well known for his place-specific murals in dozens of cities around the world, including in his hometown of Reno, Nevada. His work can viewed online at www.eriktburke.com.
Local artist Jason Nessen has been the go-to guy for many murals around Tremonton, but he is currently occupied with finishing a mural in front of the Box Elder County Fairgrounds, a nearly 100-foot long reproduction of a 1928 photo of the first grand entry at the county fair and rodeo. Burke had submitted a bid for that project, so local officials were already familiar with his work when they chose him to create the Halvorsen mural.
Once the wall has been prepared following the removal of some old paint and some masonry work around one of the windows, Burke will be able to finish the project within two weeks, Tremonton Recreation and Events Manager Zach LeFevre said.
LeFevre said the plan is to have the mural ready for an unveiling ceremony on or around Oct. 10, which will be Halvorsen’s 100th birthday. He said Halvorsen lives in an assisted living facility in Provo and probably won’t be able to attend in person, but the city is working to make arrangements for him to see the unveiling via online video conferencing.
With the new school year scheduled to begin Monday, Aug. 31, anyone entering school properties will be required to wear a mask, stated Superintendent Steven Carlsen at last week’s Box Elder School District Board of Education meeting — no debate, no variance.
In certain circumstances, if one can maintain a 6-foot “bubble” around oneself, the mask can be lowered.
Masks will be worn on the bus and there will be assigned seating. Students will have assigned seats in the classroom while maintaining the physical distance of 6 feet. Teachers may use clear shields as their masks in the classroom so students can see facial expressions while hearing directions.
All safety precautions mandated by state and local health departments will be in play to ensure as far as possible the health of students, teachers, aides, volunteers, and workers in the district.
And so the new school year will begin in less than two weeks. Assistant Superintendent Keith Mecham encouraged all to “Hang in there — we can do it if we follow protocol.” The state health department has dictated if there are three positive tests for COVID-19 in a classroom, the whole class will be quarantined for 14 days; if there are 15 positive tests or 10 percent testing positive in the school, the school will be quarantined for 14 days. Teaching will continue online during this time.
As of Aug. 12, Keri Greener, assistant superintendent of elementary schools, reported that nearly 1,300 students had opted for online school. Parents need to understand this is a solid commitment for one trimester, Greener said. There will be two online teachers during the day for kindergarten through fifth grades.
Online learning will take some serious dedication. Dual immersion classes will be online also, resulting in “target-practice” learning, which may result in some loss of progress.
Business Administrator Rod Cook reported on the new budget for the year, cautioning that the state may dictate more cuts in funding in an upcoming legislative session. There are also new expenses for COVID-19 supplies this year. Construction on the new community high school is progressing and will be ready for students in October, he said.
Bear River High School was awarded the 2020 School Sportsmanship Award for sportsmanship on and off the playing field. Athletic Director Van Park was commended for his program.
The next school board meeting will be Sept. 9, 2020 at the Independent Life Skills Center in Brigham City.