Revett Minerals Inc. announced on Aug. 8 that miners are clearing a path toward the lower quartzite ore body at the Troy Mine and production could begin again sometime during the fourth quarter of 2013. The Lincoln County copper and silver mine has been shut down since December 2012 because of a series of underground rock falls.
“This is not bad news and it’s not necessarily great news, but we still believe we can access the ore through the ‘D Drive’ tunnel, we’re just not there yet,” said CEO John Shannahan.
But the extended shutdown of the Troy Mine has raised concerns about Revett’s much larger project in Sanders County, the Rock Creek Mine. According to Rock Creek Alliance executive director Mary Crowe Costello, opponents worry similar rock falls in the Rock Creek Mine will permanently damage the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness that sits above the undeveloped mine claims.
Rain, freezing temperatures and a series of small seismic events led to the rockslides inside the mine in November and December. After the snow melted this spring, mine officials inspected the surface and found evidence of movement at the surface.
“What’s happening at the Troy Mine can happen at Rock Creek,” Costello said. “If they are going to use Troy as an analog or model mine, they can’t just make comparisons when things are good.”
Bear Creek Mining discovered the Rock Creek ore body in the 1960s and officials say it is twice the size of the Troy Mine deposit. When in full production, the Rock Creek Mine could employee 300 people and produce 10,000 tons of ore a day.
Costello is especially concerned about the prospects of two major mine operations under the Cabinet Mountains; the Rock Creek Mine and Mines Management’s Montanore Mine. Both are currently tied up in the permitting process.
“We’re looking at a wilderness that could become an industrial area,” she said.
Revett has made comparisons between the Troy and Rock Creek mines in the past, but Shannahan said some of the issues at the former are unlikely to be replicated at the latter.
“What’s happening at Troy doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen at Rock Creek,” Shannahan said. “From a geological perspective, the Rock Creek Mine is much more modern.”
The Troy Mine was opened in 1981 and Shannahan said some of the mine rooms are too large by modern standards. Some ceilings in the Troy Mine reach as high as 90 feet, whereas the roof will max out at 35 feet in the Rock Creek Mine. Shannahan said that would create a more stable mine and lessen the likelihood of surface damage.
But Costello is not convinced.
“There is too much of a risk, because we’re talking about a wilderness,” she said.
But before miners start working at Rock Creek, Shannahan said Revett is focused on reopening the Troy Mine. If everything goes according to plan and a path through the “D Drive” is completed to the ore body, production could start at the end of the year. It would be welcomed news for the sluggish economy of Lincoln County, where unemployment sat at 12.9 percent in June, the second highest in the state. In May, Revett laid off half of its workforce after keeping nearly 200 miners on its payroll for six months after production stopped. Today, about 75 people are working at the mine.
“We’ll be bringing as many people back as soon as we can,” Shannahan said.
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