By: Scott Harn
I wrote a two-part article about Ernie Valle back in our August 2015 and October 2015 issues titled, “From Curiosity to Mine Owner,” and there have been some new developments.
Ernie is a contractor by trade who caught the gold bug when a brother’s friend showed him a vial of gold that came from his family’s mine in Honduras. He traveled to Honduras for a first-hand look and found the miners were using primitive methods to recover gold from acres of tailings at a historic lode mine, including handling mercury amalgam with their bare hands. He eventually reached an agreement with the mine owners to receive a portion of the profits in exchange for developing a safer and more efficient method of extracting gold from the ore.
He set out on a mission to learn everything he could about recovering gold from this type of operation, which led him to our magazine. Ernie soon found himself at the Introduction to Underground Mining Class we held as part of our Gold Prospecting and Mining Summit back in 2014. He traveled extensively, visiting our various advertisers to explore equipment options. He had one ton of the ore bagged up and shipped to his home in California for testing recovery processes.
Ernie purchased the necessary equipment and set up a crushing circuit. He eventually settled on a method of smelting the concentrates to recover the values and took his knowledge and equipment to Honduras. He had problems getting his equipment and supplies through customs, and a substantial amount of time and money were the only solutions.
The operation was finally up and running, but it took a few trips to get it running properly and keep it running.
During this adventure, Ernie was approached by many other Honduran miners who wanted him to visit their sites and help them set up safer, more efficient operations, but he had to address the problems of government corruption and graft first. This led to a series of meetings with government officials, including the top officials at the Honduras Ministry of Energy, Natural Resources, Environment and Mines.
Specific details were laid out to help him get future shipments of equipment and supplies through customs quickly and efficiently and an agreement was reached. Ernie would set up a regional processing operation where miners would bring their ore for processing. Mercury would be removed and contained when present, and Ernie would get a portion of the gold.
Things have moved quickly. Other processes have been set up to separate free-milling gold from non-sulfide ores without the use of mercury, and to recover and remove mercury from contaminated ores.
Ernie educated himself about hard rock mining and processing, acquired the necessary equipment, set up a test circuit, and shipped equipment and supplies to Honduras. He had meetings with Honduran officials at all levels, set up a new corporation called Raptor Mining in El Corpus, Honduras, and is in the process of establishing a non-profit called “Step Up for Honduras.” All of this has taken place within the past two years.
The non-profit will help Hondurans retrieve gold while avoiding mercury contamination and provide funds for schools and needed infrastructure.
Ernie has been a very busy man.