Myra Falls mine aims to be ‘like new’

Nearly two years after closing, Nyrstar to open zinc-copper operation; workers ink deal

Nyrstar’s Myra Falls mine on central Vancouver Island is restarting after 20 months now that its Swiss owner and the union representing workers have endorsed a new contract.

Mining is expected to resume this year and the on-site mill is to be back in service in early 2018, Myra Falls general manager Randy McMahon said from Campbell River on Tuesday.

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“We are busy putting together a return-to-work plan,” he said.

It will take between four and five years to ramp up to full production, he said.

The underground mine is expected to eventually employ just over 375 workers. Myra Falls is in the rugged Strathcona Provincial Park, about 90 kilometres southwest of Campbell River

Maintenance workers and miners are already being called back. Other positions will be advertised as well.

Campbell River Mayor Andy Adams welcomed the economic spinoff to the local economy that will come from mine workers, who mainly live in that community. “This is just great news for the community,” said Adams. “We had had employees that have been sitting home far too long. It’s great that we can give them some security and get back to work.”

Unifor Local 3019 president John Humphrey said in a statement that “our members are pleased to have an opportunity to return to work. Our goal now is to work together to achieve a successful restart to mining and milling operations.”

Union members voted 80 per cent in favour of the contract in late July, the statement said.

The contract runs until Sept. 2020 and does not include a salary reduction, said McMahon, who would not disclose more details.

Currently, Myra Falls’ anticipated life span is about a decade, McMahon said.

“We have planned and budgeted for a very aggressive exploration program to prove up new resources and extend the mine life,” said McMahon.

Myra Falls is primarily a zinc mine, but also produces copper and lead concentrates, as well as gold and silver. Concentrates are trucked to Nyrstar’s terminal on Campbell River’s waterfront, where they are stored and shipped to customers.

Mining and milling stopped in June 2015 with the company citing a need to upgrade facilities.

Today’s markets are fairly robust, but the business case approved by Nyrstar’s board built in flexibility, McMahon said. “We wanted to ensure that if we are going to restart, it would restarted under the economic scenario that we could sustain not only the high times, but the low ones as well.”

Nyrstar has planned a major capital investment worth tens of millions of dollars to update the operation, he said. Its infrastructure was outdated when the company bought the mine six years ago. The mine began operations in 1969.

“Our job now is to implement new, world-class standards which will help Myra Falls safely and responsibly operate at its full potential,” McMahon said. The aim is for Myra Falls to seem like a new mine by following best practices and using modern, more automated equipment, he said.

Even though the mine was not in operation for many months, crews have been on site to maintain it. Millions of dollars have been spent in the past couple of years on various work, including improvements to the drainage system, water treatment and dam safety — all part of the tailing ponds, McMahon said.

A small crew maintained the mine shaft and major pumping stations underground. Even so, a fair amount of rehabilitation is required underground, McMahon said. Improvements have have also been applied to an old hydro-electric system, but more work is planned.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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