July 19, 2008

Company Hopes There’s Gold Left in Garnet Hills

By Cramer, John

GARNET - Prompted by the rising price of gold, a new mining company may reopen underground and surface gold mining operations around the Garnet Ghost Town. Aaron Charlton, whose family owns the entire Garnet mining district, said his operations will be environmentally friendly and will respect the historical and recreational interests of the Garnet Preservation Association and the federal Bureau of Land Management, the two other major landowners in the area.

Charlton's company, the Grant Hartford Corp., started exploratory drilling for high-grade gold veins and surface testing in early June. He is considering reopening the Lead King mine and other old mines as well as digging new mines.

The company has obtained or is obtaining the necessary federal and state mining permits for preliminary underground and surface mining operations, government officials said.

The company is working cooperatively with the BLM, the state Department of Environmental Quality, the Garnet Preservation Association and the Granite County Commission, said Eric Sauve, president of Grant Hartford.

Additional permits would be needed if the venture were to start full operations and to expand its footprint, which Charlton said would be decided within a few years depending on the results of exploratory drilling and feasibility studies.

"We're in the look-and-see status," he said. "We're hard-rock miners and we'll be focusing" on underground deposits.

The landscape around Garnet is littered with tailings, rusted equipment, flattened areas, smashed trees and other evidence of mining, which started in the 1860s and continued until the 1950s when high-value gold ore was thought to have been worked out. The Garnet mining district was one of the earliest to be established in the Montana Territory.

"Mining is resurging in Montana and it's all connected to metals prices," said Charlton, whose company has set up a base camp outside of view of the ghost town. "We're going to start small and hopefully will grow over time."

Charlton, who registered his mining company with the state last year, said he thinks some abandoned mines may still hold gold and that new drilling will uncover more of the precious metal.

He said his family owns more than 400 acres and has mining claims on mineral rights on 3,000 more acres around Garnet.

He said his company started exploratory testing after several years of evaluating old maps, retired miners' recollections, geologic reports, surface and subsurface metallurgy tests and other information.

Charlton said he wants to be a good neighbor with federal, state and local officials, so he has kept them abreast of his mining activities. He gave a tour of his mining operations on Friday to potential investors, government officials and other interested parties.

Chuck Bridgeman, assistant field manager for the BLM, said his agency is monitoring the mining operations to determine if the drilling, hauling and other operations will affect federal land, water and other natural resources as well as the Garnet Ghost Town Charlton said his mining and his milling operations will not generate noise, dust or other problems for tourists or recreationists.

"I think all our interests can work hand in hand," he said.

He said his company also will open a gold mine for tourists to visit, erect interpretive signs, display old mining equipment, clean up old mine tailings and reseed the area around the proposed tourism mine.

He said his company will continue to upgrade county roads around the mine and that his mining trucks will not pass through Garnet, a turn-of-the-century gold mining town that has become a popular tourism attraction.

Copyright The Missoulian Jun 28, 2008

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