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Having a blast at Lalor

By Jonathon Naylor

October 10,2010

Beneath his yellow hard hat and protective glasses, David Garofalo was smiling as he put his hand on the detonator Wednesday afternoon.
He had good reason. The ceremonial blast at the Lalor mine site means the company he leads is one step closer to reaping the riches of one of the most promising ore deposits in Canada.
"We don't really know how big this deposit is going to be, how big our production scale is going to be, how big the plant is going to be," Garofalo, president and CEO of HBMS parent HudBay Minerals, later said. "This deposit is going to grow - that's the only thing I know for sure. I don't know how big it will be, I don't know how long we'll be around, but it will be for many decades."
Strewn with rock-topped roads and heavy equipment, the Lalor site, located 15 km west of mineral-dependent Snow Lake, may not look like much now.
But in time it stands to become HudBay's flagship mine, employing roughly 400 people at its peak. Even throughout its construction phase the mine could generate some 600 jobs.
Early production is set to begin in the second quarter of 2012, with full production possible as early as 2014. Capital costs are approximated at $560 million but could grow.
The enormity of the project hit home Wednesday as HudBay invited dignitaries to witness a ceremonial blast from the middle of a bumpy road at Lalor.
Garofalo did the detonating honours along with Premier Greg Selinger and MKO Grand Chief David Harper, the highest-ranking Chief in Northern Manitoba.
About 40 people, decked out in company-issued hard hats and fluorescent vests, watched as the exploder descended inside the detonator box.
Out of the deep boom that followed emanated a thick but brief cloud of black smoke from behind a wall of trees in the distance. The guests smiled.
The blast was not purely ceremonial, as the ground it dislodged will help make way for Lalor's all-important ventilation shaft.
Helicopter rides provided by HudBay gave company board members and some other dignitaries a bird's eye view of the property.
Back at HudBay's adjacent Chisel North mine, not for much longer Snow Lake's largest employer, came rave reviews for Lalor and the company behind it.
Premier Selinger called the project "a great story for Manitoba."
"It's going to be a great project for the community," he added. "It's going to create prosperity here for, some people say a minimum of 20 years, but that usually winds up being longer than that. But you know, when you invest a little more than a half-a-billion dollars in developing a mine, and create 600 jobs to get it going and then 400 permanent jobs, that means prosperity for the North, that means prosperity for Snow Lake. And as we know, in the North we want everybody to benefit, whether it's mining or hydro. We want everybody to have a chance at these opportunities."
Snow Lake Deputy Mayor Brenda Forsyth-Flamand, whose town has endured more than its share of sector-related heartache, was just as enthused.
"Today signifies new beginnings, new opportunities and a positive outlook for the future of Snow Lake," she said. "This project will have tremendous spin-offs that will be felt throughout the entire community. New jobs. Businesses will open. Population growth. And Snow Lake will become a strong, stable community once again."
Forsyth-Flamand's vision is well on its way to fruition. Construction at Lalor remains on schedule, with an underground access between Lalor and Chisel North to permit the initial base-metal production in 2012.
The ramp will double as a platform for subterranean diamond drilling, opening up Lalor's highly promising gold zones to further exploration.
HudBay has already confirmed it will build a 300-person camp at Lalor, allowing employees to work at the mine while living in other communities, including Flin Flon.
A hefty portion of the Lalor investment will go into surface and underground construction, including a 985-metre production shaft, a ventilation shaft and upgrades to the tailings disposal facility and Snow Lake concentrator.
Work at the concentrator will replace copper and zinc floatation cells and concentrate-dewatering equipment, and see the addition of a new gold-leach plant designed to strengthen gold recovery.
At its height, Lalor is projected to nearly double HudBay's gold production and boost zinc output by half.
But as Garofalo said, the $560 million pledged thus far "is really just the start." Not only is the full scope of Lalor unclear, HudBay continues to pump major dollars into Snow Lake area exploration, including $40 million this year alone.
"Given our track record of building 26 mines over 80 years in Northern Manitoba, I'm sure we're going to find more mines," Garofalo said.