By Rick Smeriglio for SCN —
Optimism and a grubstake sustained early gold miners in the Kenai Mountains during the 1890s and into the 20th century. The nature of grubstakes has changed, but optimism remains essential. At an open house in Moose Pass last Saturday, Ed and Ann Ellis of Willow laid out what they needed to make the Sable Crown Mill real: $15 million, 100 tons a day of free-milling gold ore, and 10 suitable acres on which to build the mill.
When questioned about the need for investors, Ed Ellis emphatically retorted, “Yes we’re looking for investors. What miner isn’t?”
Although he claims the Fire Brick Mine (sulfides of gold and other metals) 32 miles off the road system northeast of Skwentna, Ellis says that he wants his 100 tons of ore from mines near the road system in the broad area around Moose Pass, Summit Lake, and Hope. For his simple grinding, concentrating, and recovery process to work, Ellis needs high-grade gold-bearing quartz ore from lode mines. Do mines with such deposits exist in the area? Yes they do, says a US Bureau of Mines Report of Investigations IC 9113 dated 1987.
Several historic, underground mines like the Gilpatrick, Heaston-Oracle, and Summit Vein all near Summit Lake, struck gold in the early 1900s. Near Moose Pass, the Skeen-Lechner, Crown Point, and Falls Creek mines produced during the 1920s through the 1940s and as late as 1950. A particularly rich ore came from the Primrose Mine above Kenai Lake in the 1920s. It ceased production decades ago according to the report. Numerous small mines lie unproductive and unattended on public land in the area. Their adits remain sealed or concealed today.
The current Primrose Mine owner/claimant attended the open house. Dave Moore of the historic Primrose Mine and the newer Devil’s Club Mine displayed a fine, grayish green powder that he said contained gold from one of his mines. The powder resulted from the same grinding and floating process that Ellis hopes to use at his Sable Crown Mill. Moore pronounced himself “very interested” in having a mill to crush and grind ore from his mines for further concentrating and recovery. He said that he “was actively considering” cooperating with Ellis.
Ellis said that to date, he had no commitments to deliver ore to his prospective mill. Further, he said that he had no agreements with owners of mines whereby he would extract their ore. Ellis probably has the right idea however. Not every wheat farmer needs to own a flour mill. The authors of the USBM IC 9113 Report recommend that owners of small, higher-grade deposits near Hope and Moose Pass combine their ore tonnage at a single mill rather than have each mine operate its own mill. The estimated 100 short tons of broken quartz ore needed to operate the proposed Sable Crown Mill would fit into seven or eight, 10-yard dump trucks.
Ann Ellis said the mill needed eight to 10 acres of non-zoned private land on the road system, near the railroad, close to electrical power with access to water. She said that she had no site secured to date, but had had two suggested to herself and Ed Ellis. She mentioned the old sawmill site near Seward Marine Industrial Center and Alaska Railroad Corporation land in Seward. Both had drawbacks she implied.
Although the Ellis owned, Diamond Gold Corporation does not yet own all the mill equipment needed at the hoped-for Sable Crown Mill, it does own some and will have more shipped soon, Ann Ellis said. She suggested that some of the equipment would generate noise.
“We don’t want to just bombard on the neighbors. We also want to consider noise. If noise is a factor, we’ll insulate as necessary,” Ann Ellis said.
Ed Ellis has not yet applied for any permits that he might need to operate his mill, but said that most of his regulatory contact would come from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. He did not think that he would need to secure a permit from the Alaska DEC despite his proposal to store tailings in lined pits at the mill site. Ellis has met with officials of the USDA Forest Service concerning mining operations on National Forest land. The FS generally requires approved mining plans before allowing mining that involves road building or ore extraction. Alaska Division of Mining, Land and Water also has permitting requirements for mining operations on state or private land.
Despite the obvious obstacles to making their mill a real one, Ann and Ed Ellis displayed genuine optimism when talking about the future. Ed Ellis made the case for supporting his proposal.
Ellis said, “We just had four little ones here. It’s for our youth. You know, one of the things that bothers me most is we’re losing these little schools around here. I raised six children in Cooper Landing and the school was the center of our life. For our natural life, not our Christian life. And I just took four to six employment requests too. People need jobs. The other thing is, we produce a commodity that people use … Locally, its economics. Scenery is awesome; I’ve lived in Alaska 52 years, I grew up with it, but you can’t eat it … We need good paying jobs for our youth … And I have grandchildren.”