[Manitoba] Province has ‘significant concerns about Vale’s commitment to the Thompson mining operations’ – by John Barker (Thompson Citizen – October 22, 2012)

The Thompson Citizen, which was established in June 1960, covers the City of Thompson and Nickel Belt Region of Northern Manitoba. The city has a population of about 13,500 residents while the regional population is more than 40,000. editor@thompsoncitizen.net

Urgent meeting with Poppinga

The provincial government has ‘significant concerns about Vale’s commitment to the Thompson mining operations’ and says it will be meeting on an urgent basis with Vale Canada President Peter Poppinga to discuss issues relating to Thompson, Steve Ashton, Thompson’s NDP MLA and minister of infrastructure and transportation, said Oct. 22.

“Following meetings with Murilo Ferreira, the CEO of Vale in 2011, and a further meeting between the Premier (Greg Selinger) and the CEO in Brazil in May 2012 we have been engaged in discussions with Vale in relation to the fund and other issues regarding the Thompson operation,” Ashton said. “We have made it clear that the Province of Manitoba is committed to continue working for value added jobs from the nickel resource in Manitoba.

“There was progress on these discussions. However the recent announcement on Birchtree and the delay in a decision on the 1 D project has raised significant concerns about Vale’s commitment to the Thompson mining operations. It is important to note that only two years ago Vale stated that “current plans at the company’s Birchtree Mine see operations continuing well beyond 2020. At the same time, Vale is aggressively pursuing new mine development opportunities in northern Manitoba at both the Thompson 1-D and Pipe-Kipper deposits.”

Birchtree Mine, which opened in 1968, is being “considered for care and maintenance” in 10 months time next August, Vale said Oct. 18. The mine was previously on care and maintenance from 1977 to 1989.

“1-D project will not be proceeding along the timeline originally envisioned, Lovro Paulic, general manager of smelting and refining, Don Wood, general manager of production services and Mark Scott, general manager of mining and milling, wrote to employees here Oct. 18.”

The 1-D mineral resources remain, however, an important part of a mining and milling future for Thompson. In the near-term future our plan is to continue drilling at 1-D to better delineate and define the mineral resource at depth, a critical factor in advancing the project. With this additional information in hand, and hopefully a more stable price environment, we expect to be in a better position to make a decision on proceeding in the next two years,” Paulic, Wood and Scott wrote.

The NDP provincial government introduced The Thompson Nickel Belt Sustainability Act, on June 2, 2011 during the fifth and final session of the 39th Manitoba legislature, and it passed third reading and received royal assent on June 16, 2011. The legislation, which has yet to be proclaimed, calls for the fund’s board to consist of at least five and not more than 11 directors appointed by the provincial cabinet for terms not to exceed three years. In making appointments to the board, the cabinet “must have regard to the desirability” of having a board that includes one or more representatives from the City of Thompson; Vale; organized labour; organizations that represent aboriginal peoples; the federal government and the general public.

Section 4 (a) of the Thompson Nickel Belt Sustainability Act, with its reference to the Thompson Nickel Belt Economic Development Fund, specifies the “operation of the fund is to be supported by amounts appropriated by the legislature for the fund, which amounts are to be determined with reference to the taxes paid by Vale under The Mining Tax Act.”

The money Vale pays now under The Mining Tax Act goes into the province’s general revenues and is not segregated in a fund or otherwise separated out.