Grand River Ironsands hopes to start mining soon
© Derek Montague
Grand River Ironsands president Francis MacKenzie (left) and GRI director Paul Snelgrove say the port in Happy Valley-Goose Bay will need upgrades before the mining project can go ahead.
Pig iron producer Grand River Ironsands Inc., is nearly ready to start mining its 400 square kilometre claim near the Churchill River in Labrador.
The corporation knows it can extract the ore from the ground, and that it’s profitable. Most importantly, the company recently figured out how to separate the iron from the intertwined titanium.
But there is still one big obstacle in GRI’s way: the port on the Terrington Basin must be upgraded to modern standards before the project can move ahead.
“The port infrastructure, as it stands today, will not satisfy the needs for us to move product in and product out,” said GRI president Francis MacKenzie.
“If we don’t solve this port issue, there’s no sense in doing any more work here. How do you get product in and out?”
MacKenzie told The Labradorian that GRI would need a port laydown area that could, potentially, hold 400,000 tonnes of pig iron ready to ship out.
“The existing infrastructure, No. 1, it’s not big enough. You need a lot of laydown area,” said MacKenzie.
Another hurdle lies in an area near the dock called Sandy Point Run, where the water may be too shallow for certain large vessels. Although Mackenzie said he doesn’t know the exact depth, it’s estimated to be at 28 feet.
“What we’re trying to do is see if there’s any alternatives,” said MacKenzie.
But Grand River Ironsands has found it difficult trying to figure out whom to talk to about their concerns about the port. According to Happy Valley-Goose Bay businessman and GRI director, Paul Snelgrove, there is no clear governance model in place when it comes to the port.
“Nobody really knows the answer to who owns what. It’s a complicated process,” said Snelgrove.
“For example, the main dock is owned by the province. The land to the left of the main dock is owned by the province, and the land to the right of the main dock is owned by DND (Department of National Defence).”
MacKenzie said it’s important, if the GRI mining project goes ahead, that the company knows whom to deal with if any port issues arise.
“These are the things we need big clarity on: who do we deal with, and what are the future solutions for the port? Because the existing infrastructure cannot meet our needs,” said MacKenzie.
“We’re saying, let’s see if we can move Goose Bay to a little different, higher, level to be able to accept bigger and different types of ships.”
Snelgrove sits on an ad hoc committee, which includes Labrador North Chamber of Commerce president Sterling Peyton, that is committed to reviewing the Happy Valley-Goose port and ways to improve it.
The committee is currently seeking funding, from agencies like the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), to do a comprehensive study on the port at Terrington Basin. Snelgrove is hoping that, from the study, will emerge an idea for governance.
“So, when the study’s done, I’m hoping they will start up a governance model … so they can take that property and develop it,” said Snelgrove.
Sterling Peyton believes that marine transportation is important, not just for the GRI project, but for future economic activity in Labrador. For that, a solid, reliable port is needed.
“From an overall point of view, our interests in the port, how we could look at … how the port can be positioned to be part of a northern strategy, like a northern gateway,” said Peyton.
“For the last number of years now, we’ve been promoting Labrador and Happy Valley-Goose Bay as a place that could be better connected to our good friends up in the eastern Arctic.”
According to MacKenzie, there will probably be a pig iron plant in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to serve the mining operation. But, due to the infrastructure issues, such as the shipping port, it will be the second plant, rather than the first.
“There’re a lot of things we’re going to have to go through. Most of the communities that we studied … all that infrastructure is in place. We got to catch Goose Bay up,” said MacKenzie.
“If we could overcome all these other things that we have to fix first, we’d be putting the first plant here.”
MacKenzie said once the mining operation has started, and a pig iron plant is operational in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, it will create approximately 400 local jobs.
According to the Grand River Ironsands president, they want to get the mining started in the very near future. But, there’s no point in starting until the port issue is figured out.
“We’d love to be taking it out in the next year or two. But realistically, it’ll be after we answer the (port) question,” said MacKenzie.
“We’re as anxious to get on with it as anyone. We had hoped to be up and running next year but it’s not realistic. We still have so much development work to do here in the community.”