A recently announced increase in the estimated size of the ore body means the Harper Creek project is now one of the largest potential copper projects in Canada, Yellowhead Mining executive vice-president Ron Handford told a community-to-community forum held at the Sportsplex last Wednesday.
The next major challenge will be financing the $760 million construction phase.
A preliminary economic analysis done last March was based on production of 70,000 tonnes per day, said Handford. That would be about half the production levels of the Highland Valley copper mine near Logan Lake.
The recently released drilling results mean the proposed Harper Creek mine would have a life longer than the 22 years predicted in the PEA.
The Harper Creek ore body is very low grade but similar to that found a Gibraltar and Mount Polley mines, he said.
Advantages include the size of the ore body, power costs, and unique characteristics such as low waste.
He said the mine would have a low environmental impact. The company expects to file an environmental assessment later this year.
“Hydro is the critical path item,” Handford said. “If we get the permits in mid-2013, we could be operational by late 2014 to mid-2015, depending on Hydro availability.”
Yellowhead executives made trips to Japan, China and Korea last fall, looking for financial partners.
There also has been interest shown from Europe.
Several visitors from Japan went on a helicopter tour of the proposed mine site the week before last, he said.
“We’re very confident that this project is financeable,” Handford said.
Construction would create about 500 jobs, most of them temporary, would involve skilled trades, and the workers likely would stay in camps.
There would be over 350 jobs created once the mine becomes operational. Many of these jobs would be available to local residents with some on-site training.
Of these, about 150 would be in mine operations, 100 in mine maintenance, 90 in the processing plant and 30 in general administration.
The mine would be an open pit approximately 2.5 km by 2.5 km in size at the top of the ridge southwest of Vavenby. Waste and tailings would be left nearby in a valley about four km by two km in size that would be dammed at one end. The dam would capture snowmelt that would be used for milling operations and to cover tailings that might otherwise create acid. Water would be recycled and there should be no discharge to the environment, Handford said.
Simpcw First Nation is negotiating an impact/benefits agreement with Yellowhead Mining, said band councilor Fred Fortier.
The band has also started discussions with the province about revenue sharing.
Band administrator Doug Brown noted that the agreement and revenue sharing should be seen as opportunities for all Valley residents, not just Simpcw.
Wells Gray Country (Area A) director Tim Pennell said that local governments also should be prepared for the negative impacts a sudden influx of people a new mine would bring.
Fortier noted that the environmental assessment presently being done includes a socio-economic analysis.
“When you get that number of people coming into Clearwater, you’re going to have problems,” he said.
Mayor John Harwood observed that there are only 240 students at Clearwater Secondary School, down from a maximum of 540. That means that not a lot of new infrastructure would be needed to deal with an influx of new people.