Interview with Greg Stewart, President, CEO and Chairman of the Board of United Mining Group
The Coeur d’Alene Mountains are world-renowned for their beauty. Tourists flock to its beaches and trails every summer and to its ski runs every winter. Long before northern Idaho became famous as an Alpine playground, it was famous for the wealth taken from its hills. Since prospecting began in the 1880s, the Silver Valley has yielded over one billion ounces of the white metal, making it the second-greatest source in history.
Today, with silver trading around $18.50, northern Idaho stands on the brink of a new silver age.
By 1991, when silver was trading at $3.90 an ounce, the Valley was thought to be almost played out. Mining had become uneconomic, and the area had been subjected to profound environmental degradation. Today, with silver trading around $18.50, northern Idaho stands on the brink of a new silver age. And Greg Stewart, whose company controls the Crescent Mine, is looking forward to a future rich in takings but also environmentally responsible.
Stewart, President, CEO and Chairman of the Board of the United Mining Group (UMG), was born and bred in the Valley. The 44-year-old got his start in reclamation. He founded Stewart Contracting in 1992. “Because this is such a rich mining area, the area suffered from what you might call the sins of fathers.” Stewart explains. “The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality does the sampling and testing, and we go forward with the actual construction. We remove soils out of the contaminated areas and replace them with clean soil.”
Stewart Contracting evolved into United Mining Services, which recently began trading as a public company as the United Mining Group (CNSX:UMG): “In 2006, we started branching out into other areas. We acquired a fabrication company and an underground mining company, and we still do our environmental construction work.”
Stewart calls UMG “a one-stop shop.” He explains, “Right now we have a pretty good-sized crew working for U.S. Silver, doing underground mining, doing the actual drift work, raise mining, the whole spectrum. We repair and rebuild mining equipment and actually manufacture parts for that equipment.”
As befits his history, Stewart first got involved with the historic Crescent site on the environmental side. “Initially, SNS Silver purchased the Crescent Mine, and they hired us to do rehab on the existing buildings there. Then we started work on underground rehabilitation.”
What persuaded Stewart to move from contracting to ownership? Two reasons. First, “SNS spent around $12 million drilling out a reserve. Originally the lower workings of the Crescent had been flooded for some time. Their idea was that this vein extended out from the existing workings, so they launched a drill program up there proving up about a 10-million ounce reserve. That money had already been spent, so that was money we wouldn’t need to spend to find the reserve.”
We have the Sunshine Mine on one side and Bunker Hill on the other. We’re sandwiched between the two. It’s just sitting there waiting, basically
The second reason? Location, location, location. “If you look at each side of us, you have the Sunshine Mine on one side and Bunker Hill on the other. We’re sandwiched between the two. It’s just sitting there waiting, basically. To the west of us, Bunker Hill mine has produced 161 million ounces. To the east of us, practically a stone’s throw away, is Sunshine, and it’s produced 328 million ounces. Crescent in the past has produced 25 million ounces. Out of those three, it’s definitely the one that’s had the least amount of exploration with the most potential.”
What’s more, “One of the things that sets us apart from other exploration companies is that we’re close to production, about a year away. Plus we’ve got the backbone of our services company which generated a profit about $3 million a year, which certainly helps.”
Given the geography and the history, Greg Stewart thinks Crescent’s upside could be huge. He concludes, “It’s not out of the question to say there could be 100 million ounces there.”