Workers laid off from Minto mine

A Whitehorse contractor has had to lay off most of its workforce at Capstone’s Minto mine, after open-pit mining wrapped up at the end of September.

A Whitehorse contractor has had to lay off most of its workforce at Capstone’s Minto mine, after open-pit mining wrapped up at the end of September.

Jennifer Byram, vice-president of Pelly Construction Ltd., said the company has let go 58 workers at the copper mine near Pelly Crossing.

She said the layoffs didn’t come as a surprise, as Capstone has been meeting regularly with contractors to let them know where things stand. But “it’s never good news to be laid off,” she said.

“It’s not a good time to get laid off. There isn’t that much work for this industry out there.”

Minto is the only hard rock mine currently operating in the Yukon.

Byram said some workers will leave to find work in the mines in northern British Columbia, while others are searching in the territory.

She said Pelly Construction doesn’t have any other major contracts, though it does do some placer mining near Atlin, B.C., in the summer.

The company has been working on and off at the Minto mine since 1996, she said. “So it’s bittersweet, because it has been a great run for us.”

Still, she’s not worried about the company’s future. She said the recent purchase of Kaminak’s Coffee project by mining giant Goldcorp “has put a lot of eyes on the territory.”

“I’m not all doom and gloom, because I think there are projects on the horizon,” she said.

Odin Verhees, head secretary with Pelly Construction, was just laid off and plans to go on employment insurance while he looks for other work.

He said his job prospects aren’t great, because Yukon’s economy “isn’t looking so good here for the next two, three years.”

But he doesn’t have a family to take care of, and he’s not overly concerned. “When I drove out … I just felt like I was going on days off,” he said. “Usually stuff always kind of turns out.”

In fact, it’s possible that Pelly Construction could be back at the Minto mine as early as January 2017.

Surface mining at the Minto North pit is now complete, but mine manager Ron Light said next year Capstone might open some smaller pits that aren’t economical right now.

“The economics and the commodity prices have to be better than what they are right now,” he said, adding that Capstone is working to get better prices from its suppliers to bring operating costs down.

Capstone was initially expecting surface mining to wrap up in August 2016, but delays stretched it until the end of September, Light said.

Underground mining will continue at Minto until the middle of 2017, he said, when the mine will likely go into temporary closure.

Premier Darrell Pasloski released a statement about the layoffs on Wednesday. “Our hearts go out to the men and women affected by these layoffs,” he said. “Pelly Construction is an important part of our community and I have no doubt that they handed out these notices with a heavy heart.”

Light said there are still about 200 employees at Minto, with roughly 100 on-site at any given time. Dumas Mining is the major underground contractor, and currently employs 38 people at the mine.

“We’re always looking at opportunities that will present themselves to stay open a bit longer,” he said. “I’ll do my best to keep as many employees as I can for as long as I can.”

Verhees said he’ll be back on the job with Pelly Construction if another pit at Minto does open next year. But mine workers learn to take that optimism with a grain of salt, he said, because conditions can change so quickly.

“I’d say it’s all like a dice roll,” he said.

For the time being, he’s just trying to scale back his spending and not blow his paycheque too quickly.

“It just takes a bit to get out of that habit, and to start going back to No Name noodles.”

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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