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Gold, palladium mine projects show progress and promise on Superior's north shore

Harte Gold boosting production, Clear Air Metals reaches a mineral milestone, Orion seals the deal at Greenstone
Premier Gold Hardrock intersection
Premier Gold photo of the Hardrock site, south of Geraldton.

A White River mine is expanding and two gold and palladium projects are advancing along the north shore of Lake Superior in a roundup of recent news releases.

Harte Gold is pressing ahead with a $21-million expansion of its Sugar Zone Mine.

With an abundant base of gold at its underground operation north of White River, the Toronto-headquartered miner released a feasibility study providing the spark to expand production capacity from 800 tonnes a day to 1,200 tonnes by the first quarter of 2023.

This will amount to a 58 per cent increase in yearly gold production that will drive production to 102,000 ounces by 2023, and will deliver sustainable production of 98,700 ounces a year from 2023 to 2027.

This year's gold production target is 60,000 to 65,000 ounces.

Sugar Zone's current mine life is nine years, from 2021 to 2019, but the company finds "significant opportunities" for expansion with more gold mineralization close to the mine, along strike and at depth, to extend the mine's operating life.

The gold resource modelling shows a probable mineral reserve estimate of 797,000 ounces within 3.5 million tonnes at 7.2 grams per tonne (g/t) of gold. The indicated resource sits at 1.1 million ounces within 2.8 million tonnes at 11.9 g/t. The inferred resource is 567,000 ounces of gold inside 1.9 million tonnes at 9.5 g/t.

"The study presents a transformative opportunity and showcases the tremendous potential of the Sugar Zone Mine," said president-CEO Frazer Bourchier in a Jan. 20 statement.

"The feasibility study shows a clear pathway for Harte Gold to significantly increase its gold production, while substantially reducing costs for years to come, all of which is underpinned by a low capital requirement. As a result of this compelling outcome, the company has made the decision to proceed with the expansion."

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To the west, Thunder Bay's Clean Air Metals released a mineral resource for its two high-grade palladium deposits north of the city.

The company is methodically drilling off the 29,725-hectare property. Nordmin Engineering is preparing a preliminary economic assessment of one of the two deposits on site, Current Lake, for its potential to be an underground mine.

Clean Air is overseeing a 30,000-metre drill program at its Thunder Bay North Project, where two palladium deposits – Current Lake and Escape Lake – have been identified in the vicinity of Greenwich Lake and Tartan Lake.

The Thunder Bay North Project is located 60 kilometres southeast of Impala's Lac des Iles Mine and 40 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.

The two polymetallic high-grade palladium projects have significant values of platinum, nickel, copper, gold, silver, cobalt and rhodium in the metal mix that could all be valuable byproducts for the project.

The indicated mineral resources at Thunder Bay North Project are approximately 1.33 million ounces of palladium at Current Lake, and 0.50 million ounces of palladium in the Escape Lake Deposit. Inferred mineral resources are approximately 0.41 million ounces at Current Lake and 0.25 million ounces at Escape Lake, which will be the subject of an extensive exploration drilling program this year.

In a Jan. 20 statement, Abraham Drost, Clean Air Metals' CEO, called this a "milestone mineral resource study."

"An underground ramp-access mine planning approach by Nordmin Engineering has been the key to unlock value at the Thunder Bay North Project. We look forward to a busy year ahead as we continue drilling with two drills in an effort to increase and upgrade mineral resources at the Escape Lake. We also plan on adding a drill at the Current Lake Deposit focused on upgrading inferred material to indicated and testing nearby greenfields exploration targets with massive sulphide potential."

Executive chairman Jim Gallagher said the project offers a broad range of metals that sets the company up to participate in the future low carbon transportation economy.

"Platinum prices have risen sharply in the last several months as hydrogen and fuel cells become a viable alternative, especially in the trucking and long-distance transportation sectors. Nickel, copper and cobalt are key to the battery electric revolution and gold and silver provide a potential sweetener to a future revenue stream."

In the Geraldton area, Thunder Bay-based Premier Gold Mines announced on Jan. 19 of the completion of a December transaction involving its former litigious joint venture partner, Centerra Gold, in half of its interest in the Greenstone Gold Mines Partnership to Orion Mine Finance Group.

The featured asset with Greenstone is the Hardrock Project, a proposed open-pit mine south of Geraldton.

In mid-December, Orion was announced as purchasing the 50 per cent stake held by Centerra Gold for an upfront cash payment of US$210 million, plus some milestone payments of up to $75 million when the Hardrock Project reaches certain construction and production thresholds.

Premier owns the other half of Greenstone Gold Mines, which hosts a number of historic and newly discovered gold deposits on its 39,000-hectare property near Geraldton. They're backed by Equinox Gold of Vancouver, which acquired all of the outstanding shares of Premier.

Premier regards the Hardrock Project as a fully permitted “shovel-ready” mine project with a mine closure plan in place and consent from area First Nations.

Estimated to have a 14-year mine life, the proposed $1.3-billion mine stands to be an economic boon for both the town of Geraldton and nearby First Nations.

When the green light is given for the groundbreaking, Hardrock is expected to create 1,200 construction jobs and 550 mining operations jobs.