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Texas firm top bidder for Sterling Mining Co.

A Dallas, Texas, company has emerged as the top bidder for Sterling Mining Co., which controls the historic Sunshine Mine near Kellogg.

With a bid of $24 million, Silver Opportunity Partners LLC beat out two Canadian firms for Sterling’s stock and assets. The sale is subject to approval by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court at a May 3 hearing.

“This is really good news for the Silver Valley,” said Ford Elsaesser, Sterling’s attorney. “There’s a reasonable certainty that all creditors will be paid in full…And presumably at some point, the mine will reopen.”

Sterling’s most valuable asset is the Sunshine Mine’s lease and an option to purchase the underground silver mine. The company filed for Chapter 11 organization last year. Money from the sale of Sterling’s stock and assets will be used to pay creditors. Sterling’s stockholders might also get payment, Elsaesser said.

Silver Opportunity Partners did not immediately return phone calls Thursday, and little was revealed about the privately held company. But community members expressed hope that the company would have both the financing and experience needed to re-start the Sunshine Mine, which once employed more than 200 people. The recession has taken a toll on Idaho’s Silver Valley. More than 15 percent of Shoshone County’s workforce was unemployed in March.

“We’d like to have an operating mine,” said Jon Cantamessa, chairman of the county’s board of commissioners. “This whole area still has a lot of minerals.”

The Sunshine Mine produced more than 360 million ounces of silver during 125 years of operations. The mine closed in 2001 amid heavy debts and depressed silver prices.

Sterling reopened the mine in late 2007, paying out $10,000 per month to lease the mine from its owner, Sunshine Precious Metals. But less than a year later, Sterling was broke. The company laid off all but a handful of its 200 workers and filed for bankruptcy.