When a prime contractor asked Margaret Nava and her husband, Tony Nava, owners of NFI, Inc., if they could seal an abandoned mine while on a job, their answer was yes. It wasn’t long after that the Albuquerque based-firm began to create a business out of closing abandoned mines throughout the Southwest.
According to NFI, there are about 1,500 abandoned mines in New Mexico and more than a half million in the United States. NFI has closed more than 330 mines in the region, including in spots at Lake Mead, Nevada; Coronado National Monument in Arizona; Paris Mill in Colorado; Marble Canyon in Death Valley in California; and along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. All the closures meet Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal and state requirements. They also contain special bat gates to allow the animals to fly freely into their habitat but closes off the entrance to humans or large animals so that it doesn’t pose a risk.
So many abandoned mines remain on public lands after the Gold Rush and extensive mining for metals to support World War II. Some of the large holes are faux mines created by swindlers who wanted to sell land for a premium.
Since 2005, NFI, which started as a general contracting company, began performing subcontract services and now does work for the EPA, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. The company hires students who have earned or are earning a welding certificate from the Job Corps, a free education and training program that helps young people, many who are at-risk, learn a career, earn a high school diploma or GED.
In 2011, the company received its 8(a) certification and has been certified as an Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business with PTAP’s help. Margaret Nava also had some help from a mentor of sorts, another seasoned government contractor a PTAP advisor recommended to her who helped her navigate the contracting world with a lot of positive, helpful feedback.
While NFI has had contracting success, Margaret Nava said she’s been most grateful to give back through her company by hiring Job Corps students.
“It’s important to have a company that can work with them and the patience to work with them,” she said. “We want them to make good wages and feed their families—that’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”