Apex Mine

Between the two hillsides in the distance, as seen last week, is the spot where the new underground Apex Mine's portal will be when the gold mine opens, perhaps as soon as fall 2018.

A new underground gold mine called the Apex at the Golden Sunlight site near Whitehall could be up and running within about a year, Dan Banghart, general manager, said recently.

While the new mine will increase overall ore production, it won't add new jobs.

Canadian-based Barrick Gold Corp., owner of Golden Sunlight, laid off about 140 workers in fall 2015 when it closed the Mineral Hill Pit, the open pit operation. At the time, Banghart blamed low gold prices and the instability of one side of the pit for the shutdown.

But by early 2016, Golden Sunlight brought in a Canadian-based contractor, Redpath, to take ore from an underground mine called 2Bug, which snakes around behind the walls of Mineral Hill Pit and is separate from the Apex. (See related story.)

Barrick maintains a skeletal crew at Golden Sunlight to support Redpath's work. But with the contract workers, the number of jobs at Golden Sunlight has grown since the layoff, and there are about 140 miners working at 2Bug.

Banghart said he doesn't foresee needing more than that after the new mine opens

The Apex mine, located less than a mile north of the defunct Mineral Hill Pit, is undergoing the permitting process. Dave Williams, geologist with the Bureau of Land Management, said the process is going smoothly. BLM is working jointly with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality on the environmental assessment because the Apex will be partially on BLM land.

The site will have about 2½ acres of land disturbance and be entirely above the water table. In addition, the tailings from the Apex will go into Golden Sunlight's current tailings impoundment, so the Apex is not expected to create a larger waste footprint.

Banghart said overall ore production at Golden Sunlight will likely rise slightly to about 45,000 to 50,000 ounces of gold extraction a year — with the advent of the new underground mine. Production from 2Bug is about 40,000 to 45,000 ounces of gold per year.

While the new mine won't likely add jobs, it will add to the tax rolls with an enlarged production of gold extraction. According to Barrick Gold Corp., the company paid $2.6 million in Jefferson County and Montana state taxes in 2016.

"Taxes are directly proportional to production," Banghart said.

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