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Labrador mining company back on track

By Michelle Stewart

October 27,2010

This year hasn't quite gone the way the folks at Labrador Iron Mines Holdings Ltd. (LIM) hoped it would.
The company figured it would be producing ore at its Schefferville reserve by now - located in western Labrador and northeastern Quebec - but as president and chief operating officer Bill Hooley explained, it turned out to be a very frustrating summer.
"We were waiting on some (government) permits earlier this summer and then the First Nations barricade went up," said Hooley. "We received our permits within a week or so of the barricade going up."
The Innu Strategic Alliance, in support of communities of Matimekush-Lake John and Uashat mak Mani-Utenam, blocked the only access road to LIM's property in a bid to have their ancestral rights in the territory of Nitassinan recognized by federal government and the provincial governments of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Alliance claimed no one had sought consent from the Innu in those communities before work began on the land to which the Innu hold aboriginal title and ancestral rights.
The campaign ended after three months, in September, following talks between the First Nations and governments. The work stoppage in prime construction season put a hold on LIM's plans for this year.
"It did hold us up very significantly," Hooley said of the blockade. "We lost the majority of the summer, but we respected it. We understood their concerns and we were willing to work with them and government to find a resolution, and I believe that worked well in the end. ... At the moment, the First Nations are content for us to work on the basis of the discussions they've had with government."
Hooley said LIM has had a good relationship with the aboriginal people since they began working there in 2005.
"We signed a memorandum of understanding with the First Nations in Schefferville back in 2008 and we are still in the process of negotiating Impact Benefits Agreement with the two Innu Groups in Quebec," he said.
"Their major areas they are looking at are jobs, looking at contracts, protection of their natural environment - where they hunt and fish. They are also looking for some benefits from the project itself."
The mining company has four Innu Bands to consult with.
Two years ago, it signed a deal with the Innu Nation of Labrador in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and two months ago an agreement was inked with the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach, a town located about 15 kilometres northeast of Schefferville.
The two remaining bands are Quebec Innu based in Schefferville and Sept-Iles, Que.
Hooley said he would like to have had all agreements wrapped up with the Innu by now, but he appreciates there is a process involved, which he hopes will be concluded within the next few months.
Though work crews couldn't get access to the site throughout the summer, they still managed to get some work done for the project.
"We actually did a lot of pre-building of equipment. A lot of that was done in Labrador City," Hooley said.
"We were assembling equipment and then shipping it up to Schefferville when the barrier was in place. When the barrier was lifted, because we had a lot of pre-work done, we were able to move it onsite very quickly once the barrier came down."
With the fall weather being kind so far, Hooley said construction is moving along rapidly and he hopes to have everything completed by the time the season ends. If all goes as planned, the mining company will be ready to start operations next spring.
"We are not putting a permanent building up, but we are putting footings in and foundations," he said. "And we are putting mining equipment on site and putting some structures up around it and putting equipment inside that structure."
He said they are laying base pads for a prefabricated camp that will be moved into the area to house workers on four weeks on/two weeks off rotations.
"In total, on the site, there will be about 100 workers," Hooley said.
"We are operating under a Newfoundland and Labrador benefits plan as part of our agreement with the provincial government, and the requirement is we employ a significant portion of people from within the province, but we also will be employing people from within the Innu bands."
According to the agreement, 78 per cent of project employment is to be from the province, with 22 per cent of workers from First Nations.
Hooley calls it a good balance.
"We are looking to produce two million tonnes (of iron ore) in 2011," he said, "and we will grow to three million tonnes in 2012."