Montanore project clears another hurdle
By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter
Mines Management has received a significant go-ahead in its $400 million attempt to open the Montanore copper and silver mine south of Libby.
A permit recently issued by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality will allow the Spokane company to remove water from the mine, continue exploring and begin drilling. The permit came two months later than the company hoped, but the delay isn't expected to slow down plans.
"We were happy to finally get an answer from the state to start things in motion," Eric Klepfer, vice-president of operations and overseer for the Libby project, said Monday. "It's a big project and it's a big hurdle."
Mines Management, which eventually could employ 250 to 300 at $40,000 to $50,000 annually, will need three to six workers by February to help with de-watering. An additional 25 to 30 will be needed by summer 2007, Klepfer said.
Mines Management by next year also hopes to make a production decision so it can begin construction in 2008. Some 500 construction workers will be needed. Permanent employees would operate the mine for an expected 15 to 20 years.
Mines Management in August 2002 began the process of re-permitting the Montanore Mine near Forest Service Road 278 off Bear Creek Road.
The company in May 2006 acquired Noranda Finance Inc., including Noranda Minerals Corp. and Normin Resources Corp. Noranda shut down the fully permitted mine in 1994 before beginning operations due to low metal prices.
Mines Management in July 2006 obtained the permits from the state to reopen the tunnel.
Noranda had completed 14,000 feet of tunneling beneath the Cabinet Mountains toward the silver and copper deposit. That tunnel begins where Libby Creek exits the Cabinets. It is estimated to be 2,000 feet short of the deposit.
The recently issued permit will allow Mines Management to spend $40 million to extend the tunnel another 3,000 feet, Klepfer said.
"That will get us into and underneath the ore body," he said. "Then we will set up drill stations. The intention is to look at thickness of the ore zones and be able to convert them into a mineable reserve. We have a resource number and now we can clarify it with a little more confidence."
"We are very pleased with the final approval as it allows us to move ahead with another major step in developing a bankable feasibility study," added Glenn Dobbs, president and chief executive officer for Mines Management. "We also hope to further delineate the thickness of the mineralized zones, which could have a positive impact to capital and operating costs for the project."
Mines Management has the de-watering-exploration phase under way.
"We have started with the technical aspects of it and have been placing some orders for equipment to extend the adit," Klepfer said.
Before de-watering can begin, water treatment plants must be ordered and set up.
"We will do that in January," he said. "If everything goes well, it will take about 100 days to de-water."
The 25 to 30 to be hired next summer will include mining engineers, geologists and experienced and not-so experienced miners. The Job Service office in Libby is taking applications.