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'Remarkable progress' made at Gogama mine project

IAMGOLD is cashed up to put Côté Gold open-pit mine into production in early 2024
Autonomous haul truck at IAMGOLD's Côté Gold Project near Gogama (Company photo)

Maryse Bélanger sees “light the end of the tunnel” toward finishing construction at its Côté Gold open-pit mine project near Gogama.

IAMGOLD’s Interim President-CEO said in a Feb. 17 webcast that “remarkable progress” is being made as the project continues to stay on schedule. The start of commercial mining operations will be sometime during the first quarter of 2024.

“We are eager to showcase to the world what will be Canada’s third largest gold mine by production,” she said.

The Toronto gold company released its 2022 fourth-quarter and year-end financial and production results this week. The mid-tier miner also runs the Essakane Mine in Burkina Faso, West Africa and the Westwood Mine near Rouyn-Noranda, Que.

Côté is at its peak construction capacity with 1,500 workers at the site located just off Highway 144 and about halfway between Sudbury and Timmins. At the end of December, Côté stood at the 73 per cent completion mark with about two to four cent of advancement made every month.

Bélanger said she was recently at the site with officials from Sumitomo Metal Mining, their joint venture partner, and was excited to see the transformation that’s taken place heading into, what stands to be, a pivotal year for the company in 2023.

A priority is being placed on finishing the structural work at the processing plant with construction teams focussed on installing of mechanical equipment inside the plant. An overhead crane was installed in January and outside earthwork activities continue in preparation for the spring.

An overhead power line is up and construction of an electrical substation is progressing well, the company said.

Côté reached a technical milestone in January with the deployment of the first CAT 793 autonomous haul trucks, supported by remote operators in a new mine control room. A feature of the mine will be an autonomous haulage and drilling system

“It is really a sight to see these trucks running with their blue light and operating with level of precision that can only be achieved by this technology,” said Bélanger.

More heavy mobile equipment continues to arrive at the site. At the end of December, a fleet of 13 CAT 793 haul trucks, two 994 loaders and four D4 bulldozers were delivered.

It’s been a miraculous rebound at Côté from the trying period that was 2022 with huge cost overruns, major project funding issues, a pandemic outbreak among contractors that resulted in delays to the schedule, and sweeping management changes.

The company sold off a mine asset and reached out to Sumitomo to loan them $340 million to finish construction. The remaining spending on Côté is estimated between $800 million and $875 million.

In a news release, IAMGOLD believes it has fully cashed up to complete the mine, notwithstanding any volatility in the price of gold and other commodities and consumables that could throw a wrench into its plans.

When in operation in the first quarter of 2024, Côté will provide full-time employment for more than 450.

The mine life is projected at 18 years but exploration continues on a nearby satellite gold deposit, called Gosselin, just to the northeast, which will likely boost its longevity and expand Côté into a larger mining complex.

A first-ever resource estimate on Gosselin has been released showing an indicated resource of 3.4 million ounces with 1.7 million ounces in the inferred category. The deposit is open along strike and at depth.

The company ran a 17,000-metre drill program last year at Gosselin to outline the deposit and probe for gold extensions. Gold hits were recorded to the south and below the deposit. More drilling will take place this year to further confirm what gold is there and expand the resource.

Bélanger said Gosselin remains very much in the early discovery stage and eventually will be incorporated into a larger mine plan.

The company believes Côté is not just a stand-alone project but the start of a gold mining district with a significant mineralization that’s yet to be discovered.

Bélanger said there’s been minimal exploration in the past targeting Cote-Gosselin style intrusion-hosted deposits within their 596-square-kilometre land package.