Merritt mine closures leave 80 employees out of work

Kamloops Daily News
November 12, 2012 01:00 AM

As many as 80 miners are out of work after one Merritt mine shut down after 50 years of operation and another was ordered closed for safety issues.

The miners were employed at Craigmont Mines, 15 kilometres northwest of Merritt, and Huldra Silver's mine, which is 20 kilometres northwest of the community.

Richard Hermann, owner of the Craigmont Mines, said permanent shutdown operations are underway.

"The reserves are pretty well all gone," Hermann said.

About 30 people will lose their jobs.

Hermann said employees knew for several months about the closure and are receiving severance packages. Many of them were relocated to other mines, and some will move to the Mount Polley operation, said Hermann.

The mine typically closes this time of the year, but only for winter, as the equipment can't be used in freezing weather.

"There really doesn't seem to be any opportunity that we will start up (at the Merritt location) again," Hermann said.

The company extracted about $5 million per year of magnetite out of the tailings produced between 1961 and 1982 by the former Craigmont owner, which mined for copper.

Magnetite is used to process coal.

Craigmont expects to continue extracting magnetite this spring from tailings at the Mount Polley Mine, about 100 kilometres northeast of Williams Lake.

Craigmont opened in 1961 as a copper producer, shutting down in 1982 because the copper price sunk too low for profit. The current owners bought the mine in 1985 to produce magnetite out of the old Craigmont tailings pile.

Low lighting and poor ventilation forced the Ministry of Energy and Mines to shut down Huldra Silver Inc.'s Merritt location, a ministry spokesperson said Friday.

The mine employs about 50 people, many of whom were laid off, though an exact number wasn't released.

A company employee who didn't want to be named for fear of being fired said the mine closed Nov. 1.

"It's very unusual for a mine inspector to shut it down," he said. "The ones that are laid off are uncertain about what's going on."

Last May, the province announced that the Vancouver based firm was issued a Mines Act permit for its Treasure Mountain silver mine, about 15 kilometres east of the Coquihalla Highway near Hope.

Treasure Mountain was expected to yield 60,000 tonnes per year from an underground silver-lead-zinc mining operation. The capital cost of the project is estimated at $12 million and was expected to provide 25 full-time jobs in the area.

"Treasure Mountain is more positive news for B.C.'s mining industry," said Rich Coleman, minister of energy and mines at the time.

On Friday, a ministry spokesperson said recent violations focused on safety, health and the reclamation code of B.C.

These included little to no lighting, inappropriate ventilation around reagent tanks, ship ladders instead of staircases, inappropriate guarding around pulleys and pinch points, wood handrails and bare-metal plates as outdoor walkways.

"The province plans to visit the site this weekend to ensure all violations have been corrected before the shutdown is lifted," the spokesperson said.

Huldra opened the mine in November 2011 to extract silver, lead and zinc from the rocky terrain.

Calls to Merritt Mayor Susan Roline were not returned by press time.


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