From Alastair Sharp In Toronto, courtesy of Mining Journal
When the global financial crisis hit several years ago, the state of Idaho had to cut back. With its annual operating budget shrinking from US$3.2 billion in 2007 to $2.2 billion in 2010, Governor CL ‘Butch’ Otter said the state divided its spending plans into nice and necessary, focusing on the necessary while quitting the nice.
The necessary included making sure that capital found a predictable and secure jurisdiction and the bureaucracy found ways to say yes, and it’s a legacy the longest-serving incumbent US governor hopes will continue after he leaves office later this year after 12 years in the job.
“We’ve institutionalized those disciplines we learned during the recession,” he told a group of some 60 potential investors at a roadshow event in Toronto this week. “I want you to know we’re an ideal place. Idaho is an ideal place, not only for the fact we don’t change our minds every time we turn around.”
It’s a sentiment he will likely repeat at a similar event in New York City.
Otter brought a team of state officials and string of junior mining company CEOs with him to pitch Idaho to investors this week, with the contingent praising supportive state government, positive attitudes to mining from residents, cheap electricity, flexible labour laws and a string of data-rich abandoned mines that have potential to be reworked.
Still, with almost two-thirds of Idaho being federal land, projects still largely require the green light from Washington DC before they can move forward.
But with president Donald Trump expressing enthusiasm for domestic natural resource extraction and in December signing an order to reduce dependency on import of critical minerals, federal approvals may start to speed up.
“We have a new federal administration that is interested in developing our natural resources and interested in domestically producing some of the metals and other critical minerals we have in Idaho,” said Ben Davenport of the Idaho Mining Association. That, coupled with the state’s stance, meant “we have a great opportunity to start permitting some mines in Idaho”.
The sparsely-populated north-western US state — which is rich in deposits of gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc among other minerals — has streamlined its permitting process so it runs concurrently with the federal one, and has created an office of energy and mineral resources to liaise between companies and state and federal regulatory bodies.
Macquarie analyst Michael Grey said the state was in a “tectonic sweet spot” with two world-class mining districts: Coeur d’Alene in the north, with 1.5 billion-year-old deposits of silver, zinc and lead, and the phosphate-rich northern edge of the Great Basin region further south below the Snake River plain.
Added to its geology, the state had “the security that once you get your permit you’re not going to have the rug pulled out from under you”, he said. And that stability does seem to be producing positive results for miners.
Otis Gold (TSX.V: OOO) CEO Craig Lindsay said a permit under an environmental assessment several years ago took two years to complete, while the current round of the same environmental assessment had a 10-month timeframe.
“One of the things that has really drawn us to Idaho [is that] permitting has been very, very good for us,” he said. Added to that, there was less competition for mining land compared to the state’s southern neighbours.
While a map of Nevada shows 40-50 public companies developing projects, “in Idaho, the competition is much less, yet we really think the geologic potential is extremely high”, Lindsay said.
Liberty Gold CEO Cal Everett said his company was looking to start drilling at its Black Pine project in Idaho in June this year. He expects that a smoother permitting process, among other positive attributes, could help the state set itself apart.
“It’s a mining-friendly state, it’s got a history of mining, it’s got excellent infrastructure, skilled workforce, and a low cost of living,” he said. “If you can be the fastest permitting process and efficient with regards to government regulations you’re going to beat Utah and Nevada handily.”
Darren Blasutti, CEO of Americas Silver, one of the only producing companies at the event, said: “I can tell you without a doubt Idaho is better than Nevada to work in and it’s definitely better than Montana to work in.”
Revival Gold is, as its name suggests, seeking to reinstate a mine’s former glory days. Established in 2016 and backed by Orion Mine Finance, the company is reworking the Beartrack gold project in Idaho, which in the 1990s produced 600,000oz but was shuttered in 2001 after gold prices sunk below $300/oz.
The company’s chief executive, Hugh Agro, said early work indicated additional resources under the historical digs, and the company planned to put out an inaugural updated resource statement in the next month or so. He said recent drill intercepts included 3.5 grams per tonne over 67m and 2.7gpt over 52m.
Governor Otter told Mining Journal on the sidelines of the event that beyond mineral extraction, he wanted to ensure that value-added downstream processing was also done in-state, with eCobalt’s refinery near Blackfoot shaping as one example of success on that front.
“We’re looking not only to dig it out of the ground, and thank you Mother Earth, but also to add as much value as we can,” he said. “And when we do that we create the jobs, we create the tax base and we create a continuum for the mining industry in Idaho.”
He said Idaho shied away from offering direct financial incentives for investments, but was happy to work with companies to help provide necessary infrastructure to make projects feasible.
“You’ll find a soft landing in Idaho. And that’s where you’ll find that you can build assets, and those assets are ongoing and enduring, because we continue to find new orebodies every time we look around.”
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