Tribe Considers Mining Operation

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The Tonto Apache Tribe owns a mica mining claim on a picturesque property in south central Colorado, but, for years, they have only used the area as a camping spot for members.

The decision to begin mining the property has yet to be made.

Tribe representatives visited the property to begin fact-finding in October.

Included in the research was an investigation into building a small processing plant on the site or shipping it to another site for further processing.

"We were told it would cost between $2 and $3 million to build a small plant," Holland said.

He added no cost analysis has been conducted yet to determine the most cost-effective choice for processing the ore.

The 45-acre property is on Poncha Pass, located between the towns of Alamosa and Salida, Colo. The area has had nearly 20 mining claims on it over the years, both on private property, such as that owned by the tribe, and public lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, said Jerry Holland, tribal controller.

"The previous owners had started to mine it," said Clyde Campbell, a member of the Tonto Apache Tribe business development committee. "The mica is some of the highest grade there is." Mica is used in the production of makeup, paint and drywall, and the silica sand byproduct is used to make glass, Holland said.

There are not many mica mines in operation, he said.

The property was purchased in 2001, with initial steps in the permit process started about a year later. As the attention of tribal leaders and allocation of funds went in a different direction, activity to put the mine into production was suspended.

An article published in a newspaper serving the Poncha Pass area covered the Tonto Apache visit to the site in October. The article quoted an opposition group, organizing against the possibility of the mine, but Holland said he feels there is equally strong support for getting the property operational and contributing to the area's economy.

"We are just in the most preliminary stages right now," Holland said. "The tribe's primary focus is finishing and opening the new casino and hotel."

After the first of the year, the Tonto Apache Tribe business committee and council will revisit the issue to weigh the pros and cons of proceeding, Holland said.

He said if the choice is to go ahead with getting the appropriate permits and completing the ground work for the project, it will take a new full-time position and at least a year of work to get the mica mine in operation.

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