On Sunday February 8 Nevada Department of Transportation engineers were called to lower Gold Hill to examine pavement cracking and slumping on Highway 342, the historic foot track, then wagon road that became Main Street, Gold Hill after the Comstock Lode was discovered in 1859. The road had originally been on the west side of the canyon in lower Gold Hill but was moved to the east side in 1946 to facilitate mining in what has now become the Lucerne pit.
Unfortunately for all concerned these several generations later, the road was built over the plugged shaft of the Silver Hill Mine. The fragile old underground workings have given way several times over the years, causing subsidence that required substantial repairs.
And now, just as Comstock Mining Inc has dug the Lucerne pit as deep as it can go with the road where it is, there has been another collapse. After inspecting the site, the NDOT engineers closed the highway to vehicle traffic, and it has been closed ever since.
It’s hard to imagine a bigger blow to the authenticity of the Virginia City National Historic Landmark — other than gnawing down the mountains and hauling them off to the cyanide leach pads in American Flat a truckload at a time, which has been going on every day for years now. Once upon a time it was hard to imagine the Storey County Commissioners giving carte blanche to an underfinanced and inexperienced mining company to do as it pleases without oversight or regard for consequences, especially after the example set by Houston Oil & Minerals in the 1980s.
Jolcover Strikes it Rich
Citizens arrived at the Court House at 10 am Tuesday morning February 17 to hear Item #9 on the Commissioners’ agenda: a presentation about the highway by CMI and NDOT, and to participate in Public Comment. They learned that CMI owns or leases the land the highway traverses in lower Gold Hill, the state owns only the thin strip of asphalt that constitutes the highway and right-of-way itself, nothing else. Five collapses have occurred at the Silver Hill shaft since the first one in 1965 and this latest episode has finally convinced everyone that the road must be moved. The Storey Commissioners reacted with uncharacteristic firmness and committed themselves to relocating and restoring the road to service as soon as possible.
Cynics have suggested that the commissioners abandoned their obsequious timidity toward the mining company because the road closure is hurting the tourist trade in Virginia City and two of the commissoners have C Street businesses. In fact the closure has had a negative effect on business generally in Virginia City after only a week and Virginia City’s business community is angry. The Truck Route (Highway 341) is a challenging, even intimidating road to drive at any time, but its loops and turns and lack of guard rails are especially dangerous in bad weather.
On Wednesday February 4 a public tour of the problem area was conducted, and assurances were repeated that NDOT and CMI would select a new route for the road farther east, with CMI footing the bill. All parties committed to restoration of the highway taking precedence over mining.
NDOT is developing a two-step plan. “First we will be developing an interim solution to allow traffic to travel through the area safely, and then we would fully address any potential long-term solutions. That means that full details of a long-term solution likely won’t be finalized over the next few weeks or even months as we work to first make sure that traffic can safely travel through.”
That also means more trouble for CMI. Their production schedule has been interrupted as the stock price is dithering between 75 and 80 cents — probably too low for another public offering. Corrado De Gasperis has promised a profit “during the first half of 2015” but the delay and expense of the highway project may make that impossible. Where will the money come from to keep the company alive?
Public support for CMI in Virginia City is collapsing even faster than the mine shaft did, as the locals and the tourists have to use the truck route to get to and from US 50 and Carson City. They are learning the heavy price that comes with having CMI as a neighbor. Maybe it’s time for CMI to go down the Silver Hill shaft as well.