Imperial Metals estimates it will spend the next 30 years extracting gold, copper from site
VANCOUVER — Nearly six decades have passed since copper and gold deposits were found near Iskut, a Tahltan village in northwestern B.C.
Last week, after years of exploration, planning and negotiation, Imperial Metals received a full operating permit from the province to extract those deposits at its controversial Red Chris mine.
It was a big announcement for the Vancouver company, which has faced considerable opposition to the mine from environmental watchdogs, members of the local First Nation and Alaskans.
Red Chris is Imperial Metals’ largest mine and one the company sees as producing for years to come, said Steve Robertson, the company’s vice-president of corporate affairs.
“This is a huge milestone for us,” Robertson said. “(Imperial Metals) has been around since the ’50s and we’ve been slowly establishing our foothold in the mining business in the province of B.C. and the Red Chris project will really put us on a new plateau.”
He said the go-ahead is also a big moment for B.C., which may “finally be able to shake that perhaps unfair tag that (it) wasn’t good for mining. … Good deposits can still be found here and they can still be mined here.”
Red Chris’s lifespan is projected to be nearly three decades. About 350 workers will be employed to dig up the 300 million tonnes of minable reserves, which are destined for overseas markets.
The copper and gold at Red Chris is contained in a porphyry deposit — a large-tonnage, relatively low-grade ore. It requires a type of open pit mining similar to what Imperial Metals already does at its Mount Polley and Huckleberry mines, Robertson said.
The mine, which started to gear up late last year, is the first to take electricity from the new Northwest Transmission Line. Miners produced its first copper concentrate — crushed, milled and concentrated copper-bearing ore — in February and the company loaded its first shipment of concentrate from Red Chris in April. Company crews will be pushing for continuous operations this year, according to Imperial Metals.
The work will test the company’s plans, including a tailings facility that was scrutinized by an independent engineering, geoscience and environmental consulting firm last year.
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