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Work on Vale underground mine at Voisey's Bay to peak in 2020

Premier Dwight Ball (second right) announced the construction start for the Voisey's Bay underground mine Monday. 
With him are former premiers Brian Tobin (left), Roger Grimes and Clyde Wells (right).
Premier Dwight Ball (second left) announced the construction start for the Voisey's Bay underground mine Monday. With him are former premiers Brian Tobin (left), Roger Grimes and Clyde Wells (right). - Joe Gibbons

Indigenous partnerships, local hires to be prioritized

Work to extend the Vale nickel-copper-cobalt mine in Labrador into an underground operation has already begun, but with a significant ramp-up in contracting ahead.

Peter Langlois, Vale’s head of Labrador operations, said a construction camp has been established, and will now be populated with workers, growing to peak in 2020

First ore from the new mine, being established at a capital investment of $2.2 billion, is expected in April 2021.

Work on the underground mine begins with the construction of three entryways, “portals,” before moving into tunneling in the fall. The work this summer will also include establishing camp services and support, surface construction shops, and the start of surface features required for the mine including ventilation systems.

Blasting for the underground routes for the ramp (not shaft) mine is scheduled to start in October. The mine is expected to go down 700 to 900 metres.

“That’s a very big, important milestone, to blast in October,” Eduardo Bartolomeo, Vale’s executive director for base metals, told The Telegram of the development.

Bartolomeo was asked if existing agreements with the provincial government — and the threat of penalties, without further ore processing in the province — ultimately played a part in the decision to move on the mine project.

He said it hadn’t.

“The way to convince our shareholders is to look at the positive side, not the downside,” he said, pointing to work by the company to reduce financial risks on the project following a decision to delay, and the markets suggesting good overall returns.

The development agreement guiding the extension of the mine’s life has not changed from an agreement struck in 2015, according to Premier Dwight Ball, leading the announcement of the mining project at the Sheraton Hotel in St. John’s.

“The oil and gas industry adds a lot to our economy but we should never underestimate the importance of the mining industry as well,” he said, highlighting the roughly 6,000 mining jobs in Newfoundland and Labrador today.

The Vale project will maintain employment at the mine site, but also feed Vale’s hydromet nickel-copper-cobalt processing facility in Long Harbour, offering combined employment during regular operations of 1,700 jobs.

MP for Labrador, Yvonne Jones was actually part of the provincial government of Liberal Roger Grimes when the original announcement was made for a mine at Voisey’s Bay.

“At that time there was a tremendous amount of energy and excitement around that project,” she said, “and it’s been a success.”

Jones said the announcement of new investment and extension of the mine’s life is welcomed, specifically as a good fit for the local workforce, who have developed skills and experience and a pro-mining culture over decades, with young people conscious of the opportunities available in the industry and companies comfortable working within the sector.

“And under this new development, as we go underground, I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more of that,” she said.

She emphasized the Indigenous partnerships expected and new benefits to communities.

Nunatsiavut Government president Johannes Lampe was in St. John’s for the announcement. He pointed to the sustained efforts by his own government in job training for the mining sector and business partnerships since the Voisey’s Bay mine was started.

“Certainly, our people have been waiting for the company and the province to start looking seriously at going underground and it’s happening now,” he said, adding it will benefit the Labrador Inuit, currently making up more than 50 per cent of the mine workforce.

“Working in partnership, we have to have confidence and trust in the people we engage with, collaborate with, and most certainly we would like companies and the provincial government to consult with Labrador Inuit to make sure that we are involved and to make sure we know what’s going on,” he said.

A benefits agreement with Nunatsiavut gives preference in contracting to companies establishing partnerships with the Inuit government. Indigenous partnerships generally speaking will be given consideration.

Earlier story:

Construction of the Voisey’s Bay underground mine will proceed this summer, Premier Dwight Ball announced today (Monday) in St. John’s.

Eduardo Bartolomeo, executive director of Base Metals, Vale, called the underground mine the natural evolution of the project.

Premier Dwight Ball
Premier Dwight Ball

Eduardo Bartolomeo executive director, Base Metals, Vale
Eduardo Bartolomeo executive director, Base Metals, Vale

First ore production from the underground mine is expected no later than April 2021 and will allow the continued operation of the Long Harbour processing plant.

According to government, the underground mine will extend the operating life of Voisey’s Bay by at least 15 years and will result in close to $2 billion in capital investment by Vale. It is expected to provide 16,000 person years of employment during the five-year construction period —  peaking at 4,800 in 2020;

Once operational, the mining operation will consist of 1,700 in jobs at the underground mine and Long Harbour processing plant, the province said.

Ball also said the project will provide $1 billion in economic activity annually that will result in $69 million per year in provincial tax revenue.

The initial announcement that the Voisey’s Bay project would proceed occurred 16 years ago on June 11, 2002. Mining operations began in 2005 and approximately $15 billion of nickel, copper and cobalt has been recovered.

“This is a great announcement for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians,” Ball said. “Vale’s continued commitment and investment highlights the attractiveness of our province’s mining industry. I look forward to our ongoing partnership.”

“We are entering a remarkable and exciting period of transition in our Labrador operation,” said Peter Langlois, head of Vale’s operations in Labrador.

“We've always known that the open pit was going to be exhausted at some point and going underground was the next natural step and that's the key to fully exploiting the resource that's available to us. We are now ready and will immediately begin to ramp up the workforce and execute work to support the underground development which will allow us to extend the life of the mine well into the future.”

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