By IAN ROSS
Ursa Major Minerals is bringing its $120 million Shakespeare nickel-copper deposit west of Sudbury into commercial production.
The Toronto-based junior received notice in mid-September that it’s closure plan for its mine and mill operation was accepted by the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines.
The closure plan, prepared and filed by Golder Associates Ltd., is a mandatory requirement before starting mine production.
Shakespeare is located 70 kilometres (km) west of Sudbury, just north of Highway 17 on a high ridge about one kilometres from Agnew Lake.
Currently, their access is through Nairn Centre from the Worthington Road off Highway 17.
There the company has permits for two open pits (Shakespeare East and West Zones), with a mill to process 4,500 tonnes of ore per day.
The property will be developed in stages, beginning with mining of ore for off-site processing at Xstrata’s Strathcona mill in Sudbury on an interim basis until the company’s own mill is running in 2009.
The company is currently finishing up crushing and hauling a 50,000-tonne bulk ore sample from Shakespeare at Strathcona. Once that is wrapped up, commercial production will just continue on later this year.
Company president Richard Sutcliffe says the sample will enable Ursa to test mining conditions and verify grades and metallurgical characteristics for commercial mining. The company expects the bulk sample will provide some significant cash flow, depending on nickel prices.
“We don’t know what recoveries will be through the Strathcona mill. We’ve done a lot of test work on developing a circuit and we certainly have feasibility estimates of metallurgical recoveries” but they will adjust their circuit to handle our ore.
The company completed a positive full feasibility study last year envisioning an operation with a seven-year mine life.
The deposit contains a diluted probable reserve of 11,226,000 tonnes grading 0.33 per cent nickel, 0.35 per cent copper, 0.02 per cent cobalt and 0.9 grams per tonne precious metals.
Sutcliffe says there’s significant upside for an extended mine life beyond the seven years. As many as 150 direct jobs will be created.
The company is putting together financing for mill construction scheduled for early 2008.
“Financing for the development will require a debt-equity combination,” says Sutcliffe. “We’ve raised money for the project development to get the mining shipping operation running. For the mill, we’ve started to put financing together this autumn.”
Shipping a thousand tonnes a daily highway ore truck to Sudbury has required a substantial road upgrade.
The company plans to construct a road to the northeast from the mine to Highway 144 through some existing logging routes. “We’ve got a three kilometre link to build and we’re in discussions with Domtar to get that done.”
But Sutcliffe is certainly aware of a nearby rail opportunity to haul ore via the Huron Central Railway. “It’s one we want to pursue a little further.”
On the employment side, the company has also signed a deal with the Sagamok Anishanawbek First Nation from Massey for job training and education for Aboriginal people in mining. Already some of their workforce includes local people who are highly skilled as equipment operators from the forestry sector.
Anna Frattini, economic development officer for the nearby town of Espanola, says the Shakespeare mine announcement is good news.
She met with company officials months before at the permitting stage during an local information session to discuss environmental issues and to discuss possible job requirements.
“We definitely support this project. The town economic development office is willing to accommodate them as best as we can and we things this is positive for the community.”
She was hopeful some town suppliers could benefit and generate some new tenants to service the mine from their four-acre light industrial park.
Frattini says many people laid off from the nearby Nairn Centre sawmill went to work for CVRD Inco in Sudbury.