Imperial Metals poised to reopen Mount Polley mine

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Imperial Metals Corp. (III-TSX) is working to reopen its Mount Polley mine in British Columbia. The company said it is targeting the start of milling operations in the second quarter of 2022.

Details of the reopening plan are revealed in the company’s first quarter 2022 financial results which were released after the close of trading on May 6, 2022.

Imperial’s principal properties in B.C. include the wholly-owned Mount Polley and Huckleberry copper mines. Huckleberry operations ceased in August 2016, and the mine remains on care and maintenance.

Imperial formed a joint venture with Australian partner Newcrest Mining Ltd. [NCM-TSX] at the Red Chris copper gold mine in Northern B.C. in March 2019, after agreeing to sell a 70% stake in the mine to Newcrest, which is now the operator. Imperial continues to hold a 30% stake in the joint venture, which aims to leverage the Australian company’s technical expertise in block caving operations.

Metal production at Red Chris for the 2022 first quarter was 13.3 million pounds of copper and 12,088 ounces of gold. Imperial’s 30% portion was 4.0 million pounds of copper and 3,626 ounces of gold.

Mount Polley is an open pit copper/gold mine with an underground component located in south-central B.C., 56 kilometres northeast of Williams Lake. The property covers 20,113 hectares, consisting of seven mining leases and 46 mineral claims.

Back in August, 2014 Imperial reported that a tailings storage facility at Mount Polley was breached, releasing 24 million cubic metres of mine waste into nearby waterways, impacting lakes, rivers and aquatic ecosystems.

A flurry of investigations found that the tailings dam failed because of the strength and location of a layer of clay underneath the dam was not taken into account in the design or in subsequent dam raises.

In June, 2016 Mount Polley received a B.C. Mines Act permit amendment allowing for a return to full operations at the mine. However, operations were suspended in May, 2019 and the mine was placed on care and maintenance.

In in first quarter 2022 financial statements, Imperial said work required to reopen the mine has included refurbishment activities by mechanical and electrical contractors. The company said the crusher is operational and is providing stemming, road crush and TSF filer material.

“Crews are active in the grinding bay, flotation and dewatering areas getting the plant ready for operations,” the company said in a press release. Mining operations began in November 2021 and by March 31, 2022, approximately 4.5 million tonnes had been mined in preparation for the restart of operations, the company said.

For the March 2022 quarter, Mount Polley incurred restart costs, consisting of $21.7 million in operating costs and $0.7 million in depreciation expense.

On Monday, Imperial shares eased 3.1% or 12 cents to $3.80 in light trading. The shares currently trade in a 52-week range of $5.95 and $2.95.

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