BLM deal to fund northeast Nevada archaeology site

By Adella Harding
Elko, Nevada (AP) December 2010

Rodeo Creek Gold Inc. and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Elko District have reached a $1.5 million settlement that creates a special fund focused on the Tosawihi Quarries.

Rodeo Creek Gold, a subsidiary of Great Basin Gold Ltd., will contribute the money over a 10-year period for the fund designated for the protection and preservation of the Tosawihi Quarry Archaeological District.

Officials said it may be a record-setting agreement for the Elko BLM district and a precedent-setting agreement for the BLM and a mining company.

“It’s probably the first archaeological settlement of this size in the Elko district,” said Deb McFarlane, assistant field manager for nonrenewable resources for the Tuscarora Field Office that is part of the Elko district.

“This is potentially the largest settlement of its type in the country,” said Teresa Conner, environmental manager of Great Basin Gold’s Nevada properties.

Rodeo Creek Gold operates the Hollister underground test mine and exploration project in northwestern Elko County within the area of the quarries.

Bill Fawcett, archaeologist for the Tuscarora field office, said the site was important to the Western Shoshone, who consider the material and location sacred.

He said Native Americans mined there at least 10,000 years ago for opalite, also know as chert.

The settlement follows a BLM investigation of damage during exploration, but Rodeo Creek Gold doesn’t admit any wrongdoing as part of the agreement.

“No one is assigning blame. Rather than go through a court case the agreement is to fix the damage and move forward,” said Lesli Coakley, public affairs specialist for the Elko BLM District.

Fawcett said there was damage to the archaeological district, but it’s not clear who did what and how much.

“The company maintains its innocence and has not admitted any liability in the settlement, but we’re pleased to work out a resolution of the issues in a way that directly benefits the district,” Conner said.

She said part of the problem was a lack of communication, and Fawcett also said miscommunication were to blame for damages done during exploration.

Rodeo Creek Gold’s efforts to protect resources include the requirement that all drilling sites and access routes in the district be approved by a BLM archaeologist in the field.

“We’ve been doing that the past couple of years,” Conner said.

She also said all the surface drilling is confined to small drill pads and limited road construction, and the sites where drillers can work are marked using orange fencing, nicknamed playpens.

Hollister’s portal is in an older open pit in an area disturbed by earlier gold mining, but the exploration drilling may be reaching into areas not previously disturbed.

“The area where we are operating is literally within the important archaeological district so it’s imperative we do what we have to do to protect the resource. It’s a very different scenario than most mines deal with,” Conner said.

She said employees and contractors go through training to understand the archaeological importance of the area and the restrictions.

“If someone disregards requirements, they will no longer work for us,” Conner said.

Along with earlier gold mining, the archaeological district also is the site of Mercury mining that happened in the area back in the 1920s and 1930s, according to the BLM archaeologist.

Fawcett said the mercury mines were both north and south of Hollister, and the mercury mining probably disturbed the quarries that the BLM didn’t discover until much later.

Fawcett said there are a number of ideas for how to use the fund, including working with the Western Shoshone to set up a historic preservation office and training Shoshone people to become site stewards.

Rodeo Creek Gold will start the fund with $500,000 and contribute $100,000 each year for 10 years, Conner said.

Fawcett said an offshoot of the environmental impact now under way for Hollister to become a full-production mine will be a management plan for the archaeological district, and Rodeo Creek Gold will be paying for archaeological studies.

The EIS is in the preliminary draft stage, according to McFarlane.

The BLM investigation at Hollister took place in August 2009, according to the agreement, and presented a preliminary and revised cost estimate for restoration and repair.