Milford » When Mark Dotson talks about his days as a prospector in the 1980s, he recounts the years spent roaming central Utah searching for mineral deposits that could be turned into a profitable mining operation.
By his own admission, Dotson spent a lot more money exploring and prospecting than he ever found in mineral wealth.
Yet in 1989 he had an epiphany of sorts, one that twenty years later resulted in the development of a $60 million copper mill just outside of Milford in Beaver County. The mill now employs about 150 Utahns.
"It occurred to me one day that rather than trying to discover (mineral) deposits it would be a lot easier, and possibly more profitable, putting together existing mining properties for development," Dotson said, who now serves as chief executive of Copper King Mining.
For the next 15 years Dotson busied himself consolidating the ownership of approximately 125 square miles of mining claims held by as many 27 owners on land just west of Milford. And some of those claims, property that includes the open pit Hidden Treasure Mine, within weeks will begin feeding copper ore to the nearby mill.
The mill essentially takes copper ore and grinds it down into a fine powder. The ore, which is reduced to a talcum powder like consistency, then is put into a flotation tanks that separates out the copper into a concentrate.
Initially, the mill is expected to produce about 80,000 pounds of copper concentrate per day. Each pound of concentrate contains approximately 30 percent copper plus traces of other metals such as gold, silver and molybdenum, an industrial metal often used in the production of high-strength steel alloys.
"We're sitting on an ocean of copper out here," Dotson said, indicating the property now held by Copper King Mining and its subsidiary Western Utah Copper Co. contains at least a dozen deposits.
Mill manager Dave Jensen said the mill is expected to begin operations within the next two to four weeks processing approximately 2,500 tons of ore a day, with each ton of rock containing approximately 36 pounds of copper.
Copper King's mill may be nearing production but there are still plenty of challenges ahead for the company, whose stock trades over-the-counter for about 2 cents per share.
The mill has yet to secure a buyer for its concentrate, said George Young, Copper King's general counsel. "We talking with concentrate brokers and are considering approaching Kennecott to see if they would be interested."
Also, the mill was built using interim financing. And that means Copper King still must arrange a long-term loan. "We're in negotiations for permanent financing, but we haven't closed yet," Young said.
Beaver County Commissioner Chad Johnson said Copper King has approached the county about securing industrial bonds for future financing.
"It is a great project," Johnson said. "We always knew there were a lot of minerals in western Beaver County and fortunately Mark Dotson was pretty persistent in his efforts to put everything together."
He noted projects that include the Raser Technology geothermal plant, a wind turbine farm and the Copper King mill have helped strengthen the employment picture in Beaver County, where the unemployment rate now stands at 5.1 percent.
"Given the economy we're pretty happy with the way things are looking, at least in Beaver County," he said.