Project will extend mine’s life two years
Golden Sunlight Mine near Whitehall has applied to state officials to expand its mining operation by enlarging its current pit and adding another that could increase the mine’s expected life for two years.
The mine has applied for a layback of its south pit wall and add a second pit northeast of the Mineral Hill main pit, said Herb Rolfes, operating permit section supervisor with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. In total the expansions would add 4.2 million tons of ore for processing and could extend the mine’s life to 2017.
That’s two years beyond its projected life of 2015 for the mine that is owned by Canadian company Barrick Gold Corp.
Rolfes said the expansions wouldn’t extend beyond the mine’s current property.
“The overall permit boundary doesn’t increase, and the disturbance boundary which is inside the permit boundary doesn’t increase much,” he said. “As part of this amendment, they’re proposing a newer pit about 1,000 feet to the north of the main pit — that’s about 50 acres of land that would be disturbed.”
Tim Dimock, senior manager of technical support for Barrick, said strong gold prices make it viable to go for the ore.
“These are fairly small resources,” he said. “They would buy us a couple years in the north area and the south area.”
But Dimock added that time is vital because it may allow the mine to further develop some areas and prolong its life beyond 2017.
“The timing is important because we’re done mining the Mineral Hill pit by April of next year,” he said. “We have short timing to get the permit and keep our open pit miners working.”
Dimock has served as general manager at Golden Sunlight for the past eight years, but was promoted to his new position. He will be moving to Salt Lake City to work at Barrick’s North American headquarters beginning next month, he said.
The plan at Golden Sunlight also calls for the removal of 52 million tons of waste rock in total, DEQ said in a press release. In addition, the tailings impoundment would be raised by four feet in order to dispose of additional tailings.
But Tom Harrington, co-director of the Jefferson Local Development Corp., said the potential to again extend the mine’s life is good news for the area’s economy. He said Golden Sunlight employs more than 200 people and an additional 90 private contractors.
The mine has been conducting exploration work for some time to study the possibility of the expansion, he said. In addition, Golden Sunlight has been using its mill to process ore from other mines, which Harrington said is good for everyone. That’s possible because of high metal prices, he said.
“They’ve got these 100 year old tailings and (the owners) are making money on them, the mine’s making money on them and they’re getting the sites cleaned up at the same time,” Harrington said.
And the longer the mine goes on, the easier it will be for Whitehall to move forward when it eventually closes. Harrington serves on the Community Transition Advisory Council, a group working to help the local economy transition when the mine closes.
Rolfes said under state law DEQ has 90 days to determine whether the application is complete and they are working to get that done well before the deadline.
— Reporter Nick Gevock may be reached at email@example.com