A two-year, $100-million investment is increasing productivity at a Timmins gold mine.
Tahoe Canada celebrated the official opening of the Bell Creek shaft on Feb. 12 at the complex located on Florence Street in Porcupine.
The project expanded an inoperable 300-metre shaft to a 1,080-metre production shaft.
Bell Creek Complex manager David Bernier explained the mine was at the point where it wasn't sustainable to be using trucks to remove ore.
"And with that, it was time to get the shaft down deeper so that allows people to get to work sooner and that allows us to remove trucks from the underground and increase our capacity,” he said.
The changes mean production targets are also increasing.
In 2018, Bernier said the target was for 62,000 ounces and they attained 70,000.
For 2019, the goal is 80,000 ounces.
“We’re also starting to look at reforecasting the back end of this year to see what other potential we can do now that we have no restrictions on moving the muck,” said Bernier.
Sinking the shaft and rebuilding infrastructure at an active mine site was a challenge.
Work on the project started in May 2016.
“In terms of expediting the schedule as much as we can, we tried to decouple work packages into several different pieces. We always had construction or development work going on on a number of different fronts at the same time. So, essentially the shaft deepening was segmented into three sections, as well while all that was going on we were demolishing the old infrastructure on surface and rebuilding the infrastructure new,” Bernier said.
Aside from fine-tuning some of the programming, Bernier said the project is complete. He said the company has been skipping the past five days, and staff has been going underground in the cage since December.
For Peter Van Alphen, VP of operations for Tahoe Canada, having the shaft creates a new environment for Bell Creek.
He explained the ramp goes 1,200 metres underground, which is eight kilometres of hauling rock to get to surface.
"The ventilation challenges of that, the equipment challenges of that, it just becomes extremely difficult. Productivity is a challenge; it takes nearly an hour to get down to the bottom of the mine," he said.
With the cage, he said people can be 1,000 metres underground in four minutes.
"We produce gold here at not a very high-grade gold deposit, so we have to improve on our costs all the time and what this does is it takes a significant portion of our costs in trucking and productivity and it reduces that and so that helps us become more and more sustainable into the future,” he said.
There is room to go deeper.
Van Alphen said the shaft can to to 2,000 metres, which he is confident they'll see.
“We can deepen this shaft and still produce at the same rate. We’re actively drilling and looking at deepening the deposit,” he said.
In Timmins, Tahoe also operates the Timmins West mine.
The shaft at Bell Creek won't mean adding to its workforce, though.
“We’re just over 200 people here, (and) 670 in the camp as a whole,” he said.
“We’re at our full production numbers now. And what we did is, because we did a lot of this work ourselves, is that we hired people to sink the shaft and so we hired essentially contracting crews and we’ve been able to assimilate a lot of those people into our work force and take them from being shaft sinkers and raise miners and they’re now in production here as well," Van Alphen said.
"We’ve been able to maintain most of the employees that we increased by to do the project in the beginning.”
With the current resources, the current mine life is 2025.
“There’s always more gold beneath your feet, always, and we’ll continue to look for it and find it,” he said.
This story originally appeared on TimminsToday.com.