Workers at Huckleberry Mine will be digging until at least 2021.
Imperial Metals confirmed last week that Huckleberry will extend its mine life now that it has a revised Mines Act permit to expand a tailings pond and dig for deeper copper reserves.
Going deeper means Huckleberry will hire 70 new full-time staff, from mill workers to engineers. The expansion also secures jobs for 230 existing employees and 30 contractors.
Patrick McAndless, Imperial’s vice president of exploration, said strong copper prices have helped Imperial to promote the plan among shareholders.
So long as prices stay high, McAndless said they will likely seek out new mineral deposits in nearby areas such as Whiting Creek.
“There’s nothing planned right now, but that’s certainly one that’s in the back of our minds,” McAndless said. “If we get some decent cash flow going, I’m hopeful that at some point we can address some of the unfinished business at Whiting Creek.”
Mayor Bill Holmberg welcomed the news of the Huckleberry expansion and said it is already creating some positive economic spin-offs in Houston.
At Finning, the Caterpillar heavy-equipment dealership where Holmberg is a manager, he said they are adding five new full-time employees to their staff of 35.
“Those are all people who will work here in town,” he said.
Byng Giraud, Imperial’s vice president of corporate affairs, said the company already hired loggers to clear the area where Huckleberry’s expanded tailings pond will go.
“Cheslatta Carrier Nation did the clearing work for the tailings facility,” he said, adding that the company signed agreements with both the Cheslatta Carrier Nation and the Wet’suwe’ten that offer employment and contracting opportunities.
Contracts to build earth works at Huckleberry have also gone out already. In a press release, Imperial Metals said it expects to spend $82 million on a new dam for the Huckleberry tailings pond.
While Huckleberry may see other expansions in the future, so far it seems likely that the mine will stick with open-pit rather than underground excavation.
“For now, given the grades, open-pit is certainly more feasible,” said McAndless. Going underground is so costly, he said, that it typically requires copper grades of at least two per cent to turn a profit. Estimates show grades at Huckleberry of about 0.3 per cent.
Huckleberry Mine is co-owned by Vancouver-based Imperial Metals and a consortium of four Japanese investment companies.
From 2014 to 2021, Huckleberry is expected to produce 424 million pounds of copper. From start-up in 1997 until the end of 2010, the mine produced 870 million pounds of copper as well as eight million pounds of molybdenum, 3.4 million ounces of silver and 105,000 ounces of gold.
Huckleberry operates on a mining lease covering about 1,900 hectares on a site 123 km south of Houston. The company holds 37 mineral claims on a further 19,300 hectares.