Work has begun on a new open pit at the Minto copper mine west of Pelly Crossing.
Ron Light, mine manager for Capstone Mining Corp., said the company received its new water licence at 9:27 a.m. on Wednesday, and started work at 11 a.m.
“We’ve been prepared, just waiting to get this licence, so we started immediately,” he said.
Last year, Capstone laid off nearly 100 workers from the Minto mine, while it waited for the water licence it needed to open the new Minto North pit.
During that time, mine workers continued to process low-grade ore from existing stockpiles, and some from underground reserves.
But Light said those reserves were quickly running out.
“We couldn’t have waited much longer,” he said.
There are currently 171 exploration employees and 131 contractor employees working at Minto. Light expects the number of contractor employees to increase to 200 or more over the next several months.
Those workers will come from Pelly Construction, the contractor hired to strip the new pit. Jennifer Byram, vice president of administration for Pelly Construction, said the company hasn’t taken on new employees yet, but will prioritize Yukoners, members of the Selkirk First Nation, and people who were previously laid off.
Byram said the contractor will be looking for a wide range of workers, including truck drivers, shovel operators, drillers, and blasters.
She said the people she’s spoken with are excited to get back to work.
“It’s gone on for a year and a half and it’s been most difficult, I think, for the employees in the field,” she said. “It has been a long process and it’s almost surreal that it’s happening. We’ve got dozers on the ground and working, and it’s pretty exciting.”
Light said Capstone hopes to extract the first ore from the Minto North pit in December 2015, and the pit should last for about 15 months. The company has identified another pit that could be opened after Minto North is exhausted, but Light said that decision will depend on mineral prices.
With the new pit open, Capstone expects to produce 60 million pounds of copper next year, up from a projected 30.9 million pounds this year.
Capstone applied to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board for an expansion of the Minto mine in July 2013. The Yukon government approved the project in June 2014, and Capstone applied for the new water licence in July. It’s taken over a year for that licence to be signed.
“It’s a long process,” said Light. “The regulatory process in the Yukon is extremely long and intense and there are some overlapping areas between regulatory jurisdictions that tend to cause delays.”
Last year, there was disagreement about whether Capstone needed a new water licence at all. At the time, Mines Minister Scott Kent said the existing water licence should cover the expansion.
But the Yukon Water Board disagreed, insisting a new licence was necessary.
Light said he hopes efforts to streamline regulatory processes “will be of benefit to future mines in the Yukon.”
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