For decades, large copper-gold mines have produced hundreds of jobs and billions of dollars in profit in the Kamloops region, principally at Afton Mine and Highland Valley Copper.
But a Vancouver-based firm is in the midst of developing a boutique-scale silver mine east of Hope that will see ore transported on a 70-minute drive to a mill under construction at the site of a former copper mine in the Nicola Valley.
On a typical day, about 40 miners are working on Huldra Silver's mine site at the Treasure Valley property, located about 15 kilometres east of the Coquihalla Highway near Hope.
When the mill at the site of the former Craigmont mine, located about ten kilometres west of Merritt, is complete about 100 people will be employed. The mill is forecast to be operational early this year, said CEO Ryan Sharp.
"We're just now in the final of the stages of the permitting process," he said. "We're picking away at the mill construction. Once permits are in place we can complete it."
The publicly traded company has held the Treasure Mountain property for decades. Several hundred feet of tunnelling, or decline, as it's known in the industry, was drilled. Work ceased in the early '80s when silver prices plummeted to $4 per ounce.
Silver trades at about $29 an ounce today. With much of the tunnelling already complete, along with possibility of more ore in the surrounding claim, economics became attractive for the high-grade deposit.
So is the tiny $15 to $20 million capital cost. That compares, for example, to the nearly $800 million cost for the proposed Ajax copper-gold project in Kamloops.
"The company came close to making it a producing mine in the late 80s and then did nothing for 17 years," said Sharp, who came on board two years ago to spearhead the project.
"There are not many underground mines like this in production anymore."
The mine is another piece of burgeoning industrial development in Merritt, which is also being buoyed by upgraded Hydroelectric power, construction on a new high-voltage line through to the Coast and opening of a biomass plant.
The silver mine "is a really good thing, especially to have the Craigmont site rejuvenated," said Merritt Mayor Susan Roline.
The Craigmont Mine closed in 1984, a devastating hit to the valley.
It has operated on a small scale more recently, processing magnetite from waste ore, something expected to continue for about two more years.
Roline said the prospect of new jobs is creating a buzz in the city.
"With this project, the biomass facility, upgraded Hydro, new Lower Mainland line and mills getting up to speed, we're doing pretty good," she said.
Aspen Planers' biomass mill, turning waste from mills and the forest into power, is scheduled to come on line with 16 full-time jobs in April.
Several hundred construction workers will be in the valley during spring and summer. There will also be several dozen trucking jobs in the valley for transport of the ore.
Sharp said several bulk samples have already been processed to help economics. There are reserves to run the mill for two and a half years. But the company is doing exploration and modelling in a bid to expand that to at least a decade, Sharp said.