Yellowhead Mining CEO Ian Smith recalls a telephone message he received from a female Clearwater truck driver while he was in China recently.
“I’m on my way to Fort MacMurray but I’m interested in getting a job on the Harper Creek project,” the message said.
The caller didn’t leave any contact information for Smith to call her back but he said that was typical of the sort of interest the proposed mine has generated among potential local employees.
“The Valley wants the jobs. We’re getting a lot of resumes,” he said.
Smith and executive vice-president Ron Handford were in the Valley last week, meeting with various community leaders in Clearwater and Barriere, and checking up on progress at the proposed mine site.
The proposed Harper Creek mine is located about 20 km southeast of Clearwater.
Construction could begin as soon as the fourth quarter of 2012 with actual mine operations to begin in 2014.
There could be 450 jobs created during the construction phase and 350 once the mine is operational, Smith and Handford said.
Drilling and other exploration work indicates Harper Creek could produce about 4 billion pounds of copper during the mine’s lifetime, which now is expected to be close to 25 years.
Inferred resources could add more copper reserves, plus the ore body has significant amounts of gold and silver in it.
Although the Harper Creek ore body is near the Rexspar uranium ore body that generated considerable controversy 30 or 40 years ago, they have no plans to mine for uranium, they said.
There is adequate water available to get the mine operation going, Smith and Handford said. Once it becomes operational the concentrator would be more or less a closed system, recycling most of its water and releasing little into the environment.
The location has many advantages in regards to infrastructure, they said, with existing logging roads and a nearby railroad. The proposed open pit operation would be about two km long by nearly the same width. The concentrator and tailings pond would be nearby on the top of the ridge. Trucks would carry the concentrate down the hill to Vavenby, where it would be put on the railroad for shipment to smelters in Asia or eastern Canada.
The main shortcoming is the lack of adequate electrical power. Yellowhead Mining is presently negotiating with BC Hydro for a larger and more consistent supply, they said. The company spokespeople noted the improvements would benefit the whole valley, not just the proposed mine.
The ore body has unusually low levels of contaminants such as arsenic and mercury, they said. That means less danger to the nearby environment plus they anticipate getting a premium price from the smelter, because it can use the local ore to mix with more highly contaminated ores from elsewhere.
The Harper Creek deposit has an unusual geological history, they said.
“There’s going to be a Ph.D. thesis about this one day,” said Handford.
Noranda and U.S. Steel made the discovery and initial exploration in 1966 – 71. Although significant amounts of copper ore were found, development was shelved in 1974 due to new government policies.
In 2001 a new B.C. government encouraged mining. Three years later Yellowhead Mining was formed as a private company and it acquired the project claims.
Since then the company has carried out extensive drilling and greatly expanded the proven ore body known to the earlier mining companies.
Last fall Yellowhead Mining went public and it is presently listed on the TSX Venture Exchange. The company is based in Vancouver.