Rio Tinto delays [U.S. Eagle nickel mine] production because of falling market prices – by John Pepin (The Mining Journal – February 20, 2013)

HUMBOLDT – Rio Tinto officials said Tuesday they plan to shift first production of nickel and copper at the company’s Eagle Mine and Humboldt Mill to the second half of 2014.

Rio Tinto spokesman Dan Blondeau said Tuesday an aggressive construction season had been planned for this year and production was initially slated for early to mid-2014, but the decision has now been made to “moderate” the pace of construction in response to “economic headwinds” and volatility in commodities markets.

“We’re not the only ones going through this tightened schedule, it’s across the industry,” Blondeau said. “Everyone is taking a more disciplined approach in where they’re spending their money and where they’re getting their capital.”

Construction at the mine is 80 percent complete, with the project overall – including the Humboldt Mill – about half done. “A lot of work this coming year was going to be at the mill,” Blondeau said. Any current construction work will be completed, but new construction will be rescheduled.

Blondeau said a primary objective will be to minimize any impacts of the new schedule to company staff. Even with the decreased construction efforts, Rio Tinto will continue to spend about $10 million each month on the mine and mill projects.

Plans are being finalized over the next few weeks. Until then, Blondeau said he wouldn’t speculate on any potential workforce reductions.

“It continues to be a really good project for Rio Tinto,” Blondeau said.

Meanwhile, Rio Tinto is continuing to work on a contract with the Marquette County Road Commission to upgrade existing roads for transportation from the mine to the mill. Blondeau said he hoped a contract could be finalized within a month.

After that, more details should be available on exactly how county road AAA, 510 and 550 would be upgraded, including information on bridges, road widths and numbers of lanes. The mining company is expected to spend between $36 million and $40 million on the improvements.

Rio Tinto is continuing exploration through drilling at the Eagle Mine site and is using drilling and aerial surveys to look for more nickel and copper in southern Houghton County.

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