New Age Metals' River Valley project could be a historic mine site, according to its developers, so long as investor confidence and the markets remain strong enough to see it become a reality.
Investors, First Nations partners, geologists and curious members of the public were invited on Sept. 12 to take a site tour of the proposed open pit mine, located approximately 100 kilometres northeast of Sudbury.
Visitors were first taken to a core shack in the town of River Valley, 22 kilometres south of the site, to examine samples, and then brought to the 16,000-acre, 16-kilometre-long site itself, to examine outcroppings and drill hole locations. Company representatives also fielded questions on the history of the region, potential economic benefits and recent developments.
The tour was part of the North America Mining Expo, which was being held Sept. 12 and 13 at the Centennial Arena in the Sudbury community of Hanmer. New Age Metals gave two presentations and had an information booth at the expo as well.
The tour is an annual event designed to keep the public, government and stakeholders informed of developments, said Harry Barr, chairman and CEO of New Age Metals.
And in the past year, there's been a lot of developments.
“We've spent $45 million and completed a resource calculation, which made us the largest undeveloped primary platinum group metals project in North America,” he said.
The project’s value comes primarily from palladium, followed by platinum and gold, and rounded out by roughly six other valuable metals, including cobalt, copper and nickel, he explained.
New Age has hired two engineering companies to help complete an economic assessment on the project, slated to be completed by June of next year.
Barr said the site is broken into two sections: River Valley, which is approximately 12,000 acres, and the River Valley Extension, which is about 4,000 acres.
Barr said, overall, he is feeling confident about the project. The company had about 50 people on the site tour, and 200 people came to a presentation the night before. It is still a slow and steady process, but the numbers they are getting back in their cores and studies show a lot of promise, he added.
The project’s current mineral resource shows a combined total, in the measured and indicated categories, of 4.6 million ounces of palladium equivalent.
Due to the deposit being classified as mid-grade, getting it into production has been a challenge, until recently. With the high prices for platinum and palladium, it's a now bulk mine-able project, Barr said.
“Right now, one million ounces of palladium is going for about $1,000 an ounce – that's a billion dollars,” he said.
From this point, Barr said the company is preparing to put together a drill program during the winter in a new discovery dubbed the Pine Zone in the northwest corner of the project. Two rounds of geophysics have been concluded to pinpoint new drill hole sites. Survey results identified 10 new sites around the old mineralization that he said look promising.
The plan is to have a series of open pits that would stretch from the north to the south of the 16 kilometres. The study New Age is conducting will pinpoint the locations and preliminary numbers as to how much it will cost.
“We are going to figure out where to build the mine, where the pits will be located, where the shelves will be. The economic parameters of the start of a big mining project,” Barr said.
New Age has an ongoing beneficiary agreement with First Nation communities in the region: Teme-Augama Anishnabai Unceded Territory (TAA), which is part of Temagami First Nation; Nipissing First Nation; and Wahnapitae First Nation.
Randall Becker, chief of TAA, said his community and the company are working together to ensure mutual benefit and protect the environment in the region.
“It's promising, and it's an ongoing relationship,” he said. “It's a very promising project. This mining operation has to benefit both of us.”
Richard Zemoroz, senior project geologist, said he was also feeling confident about the mine proposal, pointing to the number of enthusiastic stakeholders that attended the tour. Most of the people were viewing the project favourably, which he hoped leads to more investment as word gets out about the project’s progress.
After nearly a decade of working on the project, there is still a lot of work to be done to get it to an operating open pit mine.
“Because of the variable markets for investment, it's always been very stop-and-go,” Zemoroz said.
To move forward, New Age is going to have to perform a prefeasibility study and continue doing geophysics to see if the site has any more desirable shelves so they can show the site is a profitable one.
They are also waiting on ore sorting studies, which will help the economics of the deposit.
The site, he said, will contain most of the production and crushing, and concentrate will be sent to Sudbury for smelting.
Because it is a mid-grade deposit, Zamoroz explained it is more feasible for the mine to be open pit due the sheer amount of rock that needs to be extracted.
As the company continues to explore, he said they have been very surprised with the assays from core samples from the Pine Zone.
“The assays have been even better than the Main Zone,” he said. “We are really encouraged by that, and we are hoping we can extend this zone out of our main exploration down the full 16-kilometre length. It will add quite a lot of value to our project.”