Yukon Zinc Corporation expects its Wolverine mine will start production next month.
The mine, located 180 kilometres southeast of Ross River, was knocked two months off schedule in April, when a cave-in resulted in the death of a mechanic and subsequent closure of its underground operations.
Workers returned to the upper portion of the underground mine in late July, but the lower reaches of the mine remain off-limits until the company’s safety plan is approved by the territory.
“We’re hoping to commence mining and milling in late September or early October,” said Pamela O’Hara, vice-president of Environment and Community Affairs. “We’re two months behind of what our targets were.”
Wolverine will begin producing 1,400 tonnes of ore, rich with zinc and silver, per day. Over the first six months it will aim to ramp-up production to 1,700 tonnes per day.
Ore will be trucked to the Robert Campbell Highway and down to Stewart, BC, where it will be loaded on freighters and shipped to Asia.
Wolverine is neck and neck with another project, Alexco Resource’s Bellekeno, to become the second operating hard-rock mine in the territory. It also has the distinction of being the first Yukon mine to open that is owned by the Chinese.
There are presently about 130 workers on site. Once the mine goes into production, there will be 180 workers on the ground at any given time, with a full roster of about 300 employees.
William Fisher, 25, was fatally crushed by a cave-in of the mine on April 25. He was operating a rock-bolting machine at the time.
A preliminary investigation by the Yukon Workers Health and Safety Board found that the caved-in portion of the mine had been widened to 10 metres, but only had adequate supports for a tunnel half that size.
Since then, the company has reinforced sections of the upper tunnels with additional shotcrete – a mixture of concrete and metal fibre – and bolts that measure several metres in length. Similar precautions will be taken in the lower reaches of the mine once the company’s safety plan has been approved.
The rock into which the mine is being burrowed is wet, loose and crumbly, making it prone to collapses.
One other worker has died during the mine’s construction. On October 19, 20-year-old Paul Wentzell was crushed by a Land Cruiser after the vehicle’s emergency brake failed.
Both Fisher and Wentzell worked for Procon Mining and Tunnelling, a contractor hired by Yukon Zinc to build the underground mine.
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