As it had been announced earlier this year, Huckleberry Mine, an open pit copper mine located 88 km from Houston, closed its doors last week.
On Aug. 31, 2016, the mine was placed on care and maintenance, which would allow for a reasonably quick restart in the event that metal prices improve.
The mine had suspended its pit operations in early January, laying off 100 workers in addition to the 20 laid off in December as declining world demand saw copper prices plummet.
The remaining 160 workers, plus 44 workers that had been laid off and were called back, were kept on to mill stockpiled ore until all operations shut down.
Approximately 200 workers lost their jobs last week.
Burns Lake resident Charlie Rensby was one of the workers who had been laid off in January but was called back to mill stockpiled ore until last week. Rensby is now back to job hunting and hopes he doesn’t have to move too far from home for his next job.
“I can say with certainty that almost everyone is worried about finding work in the area,” Rensby told Black Press.
Houston Mayor Shane Brienen said earlier this year he had been in communication with Huckleberry Mine officials and the provincial government to determine what assistance could be offered to affected employees. Brienen was not available for a comment this week.
According to Huckleberry spokesperson and Imperial Metals vice-president Steve Robertson, now that Huckleberry Mine was placed on care and maintenance, the mine will keep a “small core group” of workers.
“It is necessary to keep a certain amount of staff to continue environmental monitoring and protection, provide security and maintain Huckleberry Mine’s facilities,” he explained.
When asked if there was a possibility of Huckleberry Mine resuming activities in the future, Robertson said this is “really market dependant.”
“Huckleberry Mine has not exhausted the available mineralization, and has a good mill and fleet as well as good exploration potential,” he said. “Under improved market conditions there is a reasonable expectation that Huckleberry Mine could return to operations.”
According to a report prepared by Hans Berndorf, former financial administrator for the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN), the usual pattern for mines in similar situations is that they are put on care and maintenance for a year or two, followed by permanent closure if metal prices do not improve over that time.
Since it is unclear what the future holds for Huckleberry Mine, the RDBN has prepared for three possible scenarios. With the mine being placed on care and maintenance, this is expected to have little impact on property assessments.
A permanent closure of the mine would have property assessments reduced by approximately half, and a demolition of the mine would be equal to about a $55,000 reduction in taxes for the RDBN.
Imperial Metals Corporation owns a 50 per cent stake in Huckleberry Mines Ltd. The remaining 50 per cent is owned by Japan Group, made up of Mitsubishi Materials Corporation, Dowa Mining Co. Ltd, and Furukawa Co.
Imperial Metals announced on March 30 that it lost $97 million in 2015. It also lost $37.3 million in 2014.