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Mining the Northwest: Is there a zinc and copper mine in Schreiber's future?

Metallum Resources posts feasibility study showing almost nine-year mine life near Lake Superior's north shore
Metallum Resources core sample
(Metallum Resources photo)

A Vancouver zinc exploration company wants to revive mining on the north shore of Lake Superior, 20 kilometres north of Schreiber. 

Metallum Resources said there's enough high-grade zinc and copper in the ground at its Superior Lake Zinc Project to mine for a minimum of 8.5 years as the company probes for more resources this fall around a former mine site, 150 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.

The company recently released a new feasibility study for its flagship project, updating one done to Australian standards in 2019 by another company, the since-departed Superior Lake Resources.

Metallum refers to Superior Lake as the highest grade zinc development resource in North America and the second highest in the world. 

Zinc is the world's fourth most consumed industrial metals and is one of those critical ingredients needed in electric vehicle battery production.

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Their feasibility study revealed a high-grade indicated resource of 2.07 million tonnes at 17.9 per cent zinc, 0.8 per cent copper, 0.4 grams per tonne of gold and 33.6 grams per tonne of silver.

The Superior Lake Project is on the site of the past producing Winston Lake Mine. Between 1988 and 1998, Inmet Mining produced 900 million pounds of zinc, 54 million pounds of copper, along with some silver and gold. The mine closed in 1998 due to low zinc prices.

The property was later held by a succession of owners through the first two decades of the 2000s, the last one being Superior Lake Resources.

But the pandemic and international travel restrictions scuttled plans by Superior Lake Resources of Australia to bring the project into production. They agreed to sell it off to Metallum, which sealed the deal last April and immediately embarked on a 2,000-metre exploration program.

Most of the Winston Lake deposit was mined 20 years ago but the greatest potential is the nearby Pick Lake deposit, which was only partially mined before operations were shuttered.

In talking about the exploration potential, company president-CEO Kerem Usenmez called the area "shockingly underexplored," in a recent webcall to investors, expressing confidence more high-grade material will be found. The property hasn't been fully evaluated with modern exploration techniques since Inmet pulled out.

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The former Winston Lake mine site is close to the Trans-Canada Highway and plenty of good surface infrastructure with a gravel road, electrical substations on site, a tailings dam, and 16 kilometres of underground development, including a 2,200-metre drift, built in 1993, linking the Pick Lake and Winston deposits.

Surging prices for battery metals and the infrastructure is largely why the initial capital costs to revive this mining operation will cost only $145.1 million, followed by $55.2 million in sustaining capital.

With the feasibility study in hand, Metallum plans to move forward to do the detailed engineering for a mine and will be out raising financing for the development.

In both the web presentation and a news release this week, the company said nothing about the job creation potential, but Usenmez did say they're planning for a 180-person camp on the site and are looking to be in production within 15 to 18 months.

The mine project is expected to generate $94.2 million in direct corporate taxes and duties to the provincial and federal governments.

"The updated feasibility study confirms that Superior Zinc and Copper Polymetallic Project is a high margin substantial mining project that is expected to provide very robust return on investment," said Usenmez in the news release.

"We expect the zinc and copper supply in particular to remain in deficit for the life of the mine, as green economy ramps up and more stimulus packages are introduced globally. We continue with our exploration program to tap into the unexplored targets of this world-class project. We are excited about the opportunity to create jobs and economic stimulus to Canada, Ontario and the First Nations and local communities surrounding Schreiber.”

Metallum holds a massive 17,500-hectare property along the north shore with several high potential exploration targets that the company believes could be a district-scale mining operation.

The north shore of Lake Superior is one of the hottest areas for advanced-stage exploration projects and mine development in Canada – if not the world – with Greenstone Gold's soon-to-be-constructed open-pit gold mine, near Geraldton; Generation Mining's proposed palladium mine, north of Marathon; and Argonaut Gold's Magino Mine revival project, outside Dubreuilville.