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HomeNewsUS Copper plans open-pit mine in Indian Valley

US Copper plans open-pit mine in Indian Valley

Zoning Administrator meeting October 11 at 10 a.m.

US Copper Corp. is gearing up to begin open-pit copper mining operations in the North Arm of Indian Valley.

The Plumas County Zoning Administrator will hold a special meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 11, to determine whether the Canadian-based company has the constitutionally protected property rights to operate on the approximately 13 square miles of land it controls at Engels Mine 11 miles northeast of Greenville. The meeting will be held at 555 Main St. in Quincy.

US Copper, which has been exploring the minerals at Engels Mine, announced in September the results from a 15-hole shallow drill program at the Moonlight-Superior Copper Project. That has led to the Zoning Administrator hearing.

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Engles Mine was California’s largest producer of copper in the early 1900s. Along with the neighboring Superior Mine, it produced 117 million pounds of copper and silver between 1915 and 1930; its gold and silver yields produced over $25 million. Ore was hauled overland to Keddie, where it was loaded into Western Pacific Railroad freight cars.

With the Great Depression, the value of copper ultimately forced mining operations to close, and all operations at the sites stopped in 1930. In 1962, the focus shifted to gold. Gold mining continued for the next 32 years, ending in 1994. Today Engels Mine offers an established infrastructure, making it an optimal location to once again begin mining operations, according to the US Copper website.

Open-pit mining is a surface mining method used to extract ores using a non-tunnel mining approach. Instead of using underground tunnels, it excavates the mining site in tiers, sometimes tens of miles wide and thousands of feet deep. This reduces hazardous working conditions such as collapse, poison gas build up, and falling rocks. It allows higher productivity, lower operating costs.

But open-pit mining is one of the most damaging of all mining methods, leaving disfiguring landscapes, removing all vegetation and top soil in the site, both consuming massive amounts of water and releasing toxic chemicals into the nearby water sources. Open-pit mining releases eight to ten times more waste and debris into the environment compared to other mining methods, according to its critics, and may pose health risks to nearby communities.

Map courtesy of US Copper Corp

With the Indian Valley ecosystem still reeling from the devastation caused by the 2021 Dixie fire, the prospect of open-pit mining at Engels Mine is raising concerns about the environmental consequences.

“There’s always a concern when you’re talking about open-pit mining, with Lights Creek right there and Indian Creek downstream,” said Travis Rubke, retired science teacher and Indian Valley native.

“We want to encourage businesses in Indian Valley but we’ve got to find the right balance,” he said.

As the United States battles climate change, the demand for copper is skyrocketing. In July the U.S. Department of Energy added copper to the critical raw materials list. With the nation still reeling from post-pandemic supply issues, the demand for copper has led to changes in the way both state and federal governments perceive open-pit mining. This could affect decisions on the proposed operation in Indian Valley.

“Even <President> Joe Biden has said he will support the mining of copper in the United States because they know they need it.” Robert Friendland, founder of Ivanhoe Mines and an international leader in the mining industry.

Electric vehicles require four times the amount of copper used by internal combustion vehicles, and some types of renewable energy require five times more copper than conventional power.

If approved, the Moonlight project is expected to operate for 17 years, with an anticipated 1.3 billion pounds of copper removed.

The Oct. 11 meeting to determine whether US Copper has vested mining rights at Engels Mine will be held at 555 Main St in Quincy at 10 a.m. and it is open to the public. 

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