Digging in: Copper mill could be gold mine for Beaver County

Published: Saturday, March 28 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

MILFORD — A 20-year labor of love and dedication could reap big dividends for a central Utah community in desperate need of economic hope. Loud cheers and applause echoed throughout the newly constructed Copper King Mining Corp. mill Friday as chief executive officer and president Mark Dotson cut the ribbon on what he said he wanted to be the future employer in the area for years to come.

Dotson, head of the Copper King Mining and subsidiary Western Utah Copper Co., told the Deseret News that getting this project completed was about creating "cash flow, income and economic freedom" for his family, his employees, the county and everyone who lives in the Milford community.

"It's about the jobs and the economic development," he said.

The $60 million plant is located about 30 miles west of Beaver just outside Milford. It sits on a small parcel of land surrounded by 24 square miles of Copper King-owned property that Dotson said holds enormous potential.

"We've found a substantial network of copper deposits," he said.

"We have virtually an ocean of copper out here," Dotson said.

He said that while the exact amount of copper deposits was unknown, it could be about the size of Kennecott's Bingham Canyon site.

"We believe that we have enough resources to operate this endlessly," he said. The property contains at least a dozen deposits of copper, Dotson said.

He said that the average ore grade on the Copper King site is approximately three times higher than ore found at other sites around the world, meaning better production.

"For example, Kennecott's Bingham Canyon is operating at about .50 percent per ton," he said. "This deposit will be about 1.8 percent per ton, around 36 pounds of copper compared to 9 or 10."

Initially the plant will produce about 80,000 pounds of copper per day, with capacity increasing to approximately 150,000 pounds per day in the next five years.

Besides copper, Dotson said the company also expected to extract gold, silver and other minerals.

In 2008, Copper King Mining Corp. and Western Utah Copper Co. merged with Copper King, becoming the parent of wholly owned subsidiary Western Utah Copper, he said.

Dotson said that he purchased Copper King after taking about 20 years to gain ownership of the various parcels that make up the entire 24-square-mile mining area.

There are currently about 150 employees and contractors working on-site with numerous local companies providing materials and equipment for the construction of the mill, Gavin Wenzel of Copper King Mining investor relations said in an e-mail to the Deseret News.

Mill manager Dave Jensen said that the facility would begin daily operation in the next two to four weeks and would employ about 200 people at full capacity.

Jensen added that when the mill is up and running, the revenue generated from the gold and silver that is extracted from the ore on the site would be sufficient to pay the day-to-day operational costs of the facility.

"This plant is really our springboard for growth to fund the cost of development," he said. The company hopes to identify other large veins of ore over the next five to ten years, which could mean building another larger facility and hiring even more workers.

Dotson said that copper produced at the mill would be sent to the marketplace where it would be used for piping, wiring and numerous other commercial applications.

The 51-year old father of three and grandfather of four said that mining has been in his family since the 1850s. In fact, he spent the first five years of his life living at the Gold Crown Mine in Beaver County, he noted.

On this momentous day, he shook countless hands and received dozens of heartfelt hugs from local residents who expressed gratitude for his efforts in bringing good-paying jobs and hope to the downtrodden local economy.

Dotson said that while his two-decade struggle to acquire the necessary land rights to mine the ore and accumulate the $60 million of investor support to get the mill project built has been challenging, he was glad that future generations would be able to reap the long-term fruits of his labor.

"In 10 years, I want my grandkids to graduate from high school and have a good job," he said

E-MAIL: jlee@desnews.com

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