Carmacks Copper mine could save $75M in Chinese partnership

Copper North Mining Corp. has announced it will co-operate with a Chinese engineering firm to complete a feasibility study for its Carmacks Copper project.

Copper North Mining Corp. has announced it will co-operate with a Chinese engineering firm to complete a feasibility study for its Carmacks Copper project.

“It’s basically the first time that there has been a joint Canada-China feasibility study,” said Harlan Meade, the company’s president.

The Beijing General Research Institute of Mining and Metallurgy will take care of the detailed design engineering, equipment selection and procurement, said Meade in an interview this week.

JDS Energy and Mining Inc. will be responsible for construction management, geotechnical work and infrastructure, will oversee work being done both here and in China, and will work towards regulatory approval, he said.

By partnering with the Chinese firm, the company projects that capital costs to get the mine up and running will go down to $150 million, from a previous estimate of $225 million, said Meade.

Critics of the deal say, “You’re losing jobs in the equipment side,” said Meade. “I say, ‘Not really, because almost all of our equipment always comes through the U.S. and it’s come from somewhere else before it’s hit the U.S.’ Why fool around with the middle man? Let’s just go straight to the people who are manufacturing the equipment and deal directly.

“The beauty is, with these savings that we incur, it makes our project a lot more viable, which, to me means a lot more jobs, security, and jobs that might not otherwise be created. To me it’s a win-win for Canada.”

A proposal for the Carmacks Copper project was submitted to assessors in 2006 by Western Copper and Gold Corp., the company that later spun out into Copper North and other entities.

The assessment board issued its decision in 2008, and the government subsequently issued a quartz-mining licence for the project.

The Yukon Water Board, however, denied in 2010 the company’s application for a water licence.

The plan was to use a technique called acid heap leaching to extract copper and other metals from ore.

The ore would be pushed into piles, some as high as a 30-storey building, and then doused with sulphuric acid.

The acid dissolves the copper in the ore, which can then be collected from below.

But the water board argued that the technology was unproven and could harm nearby salmon spawning streams.

Environmentalists and the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation also opposed the project.

The company took the board’s decision to the Yukon Supreme Court, arguing that the board had overstepped its authority. The courts upheld the board’s decision.

The project should be much easier to permit this time around, said Meade.

The plan is to submit new designs to assessors around April next year, he said.

“At that point we’ll be presenting a very different project that I think from a regulatory perspective will be viewed as a lot simpler, and relatively easy to review, manage, and minimize environmental impacts.”

The mine will use vat leach instead of heap leach, said Meade.

And as soon as designs are finalized, the company will engage with affected First Nations, he said.

It will be a “different kind of relationship this time around,” said Meade.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com