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Artisan Vehicle Systems still committed to Kirkland Lake assembly plant

Municipality remains in the dark on underground equipment manufacturer’s plans for Canadian base

If Artisan Vehicle Systems still plans to set up a Kirkland Lake assembly shop for battery-powered mining vehicles, the municipality would sure appreciate a phone call.

After $375,000 was spent to extend municipal infrastructure services into the company’s preferred site in the town’s industrial park, Wilf Hass, the town’s interim chief administrative officer, said the municipality's been left in the dark on the California equipment manufacturer’s future plans.

Hass, who’s also the economic development director, estimates his last contact with Artisan management was last August or September, when the company did an unveiling of its new Z-40, 40-ton electric underground haul truck. 

Kirkland Lake Gold is the first purchaser of this battery-operated vehicle. According to an Artisan news release, two Z-40s are now working underground at the Macassa Mine in Kirkland Lake.

“We had been in conversation with them for a location on Archer Drive in the industrial park and we were moving forward with that,” said Hass of his last substantive conversation with them.

“We have not received or asked for anything since the last communication.”

To date, no building permit has been issued, said Hass, since the municipality hasn't received any site plans from Artisan.

“The site is there if they continue to be interested.”

Artisan selected a property on Archer Drive, next to the new FedEx sorting plant. 

The municipality received government funding to extend services for both new tenants.

FedNor and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund each contributed 45 per cent of the $375,000 funding, with the Town of Kirkland picking up the remaining 10 per cent.

Hopes were high in the community when Artisan announced in November 2017 that Kirkland Lake would be the site of its 60,000-square-foot Canadian headquarters, featuring a vehicle assembly shop, service centre, and R&D facility, creating 60 jobs over two years.

At the time, Mike Mayhew, Artisan’s director of mining, said choosing Kirkland Lake was a “strategic decision” to show their commitment to Kirkland Lake Gold, while also positioning itself to serve other mining camps in Timmins, northwestern Quebec, and Sudbury.

Mayhew now works as a mine superintendent with Kirkland Lake Gold. His bio on LinkedIn still lists him as working for Artisan.

In the fall of 2017, Artisan said construction would start on its “Centre of Excellence” within a year and a half.

Hass said no construction start date has been provided by Artisan, however installing municipal services to the industrial park property still serves as a good investment. 

“The land, that the services have been extended to, obviously will benefit the municipality if they’re picked by another industry (tenant)," said Hass, "but we remain committed to offering them the best possible location. “

According to an Artisan official speaking in Sudbury, Jan. 17, the Kirkland Lake facility remains in the works.

Chief technology officer Brian Huff confirmed to a reporter from Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal, a sister publication of Northern Ontario Business, that his company is still committed to Kirkland Lake. 

“It’s still on the table. We’re kind of taking things as it goes. We’re trying to build up our facility still, in California, to meet the volume needs we have.

“We’re looking – and I don’t want to make too many public statements about all that stuff but – we are still, for sure, considering that because it is important to build near the market.”

Huff said Kirkland Lake is Artisan’s biggest installation base through a local service and warehouse facility they operate there for Kirkland Lake Gold, but their eventual plans are to service the entire region.

“It’s the whole Canadian Shield,” said Huff. “It’s a relatively central location, which is why we’re putting down roots there. And that’s going to stay.”

Hearing that, Hass said that is “very welcome news” to the community.

“We would like to see the mining industry evolve, and electrical vehicles definitely would be a boon to both the environment and the economy in establishing Northern Ontario as a centre for mining excellence, worldwide.”

Hass attributes the relative silence from Artisan as possibly stemming from the challenges they face in entering a new market and having to adjust their technology to operate at the extreme depths of Macassa Mine.

“After being in the (economic development) business for 30-some years, I never believe anything moves as quickly as a salesman says it would," he said. "I assumed some delays, but we would have preferred to see (the shop) move ahead more expeditiously.”

Hass said the town stands ready to assist Artisan in applying for any government research and development dollars for their battery technology, as has been the case with Goldcorp’s all-electric Borden Lake mine project.

With Huff confirming Artisan still has intentions to build in Kirkland Lake, Hass responded that he looks forward to future communications with them.

“We remain a willing host.”