Staffing at the Myra Falls zinc and copper mine near Campbell River has been reduced to a skeletal level, with 88 workers laid off this week after the owner postponed capital projects at the site.
Citing continued low commodity prices, Switzerland-based Nyrstar said Thursday (October 22) it has postponed funding of mine upgrades, which means the mine remains idle. Operations at Myra Falls were suspended in April. A Nyrstar spokesperson said there are now only 56 people left on site. When the mine is in full operation, it employs 356.
"They will ensure all necessary environmental, health and safety measures are followed," Nyrstar communications co-ordinator Franziska Morroni said in an email. The work includes ensuring tailings-dam stability, as well as the safety and integrity of future mining and milling operations.
In a statement, Nyrstar vice-president of North American operations Kelly Strong said the economics have changed since the company suspended operations in the spring. "Postponing funding has become necessary due to the challenging marketplace. Commodity prices dictate the company cannot progress steps toward implementation of our roadmap for renewal at this time, so the pace of investment will take longer than anticipated."
While there is no indication how long it may take, Strong said the company remains positive that zinc will be an essential commodity over the medium to long term. "We intend to do whatever is necessary to fully optimize the potential of the mine," he said.
The union representing 280 workers at the mine, Unifor Local 3019, has in the past raised the spectre of the mine never reopening after suspension of operations.
Campbell River Mayor Andy Adams said he's not sure what it would take to maintain the site as a going concern. "The one thing we can't control is the world market, that's the driving force behind this," he said. "Prices are what they are, and when a company can't be profitable, then they have to do what's in their best interest and we certainly respect that.
"If we can help facilitate an environment that is successful for all parties, then we will continue to chat with the province and federal folks."
Adams said the city is working with a variety of organizations to help workers who are out of a job. "We feel for the employees and their families who will be directly impacted and we will continue to work with the management staff at Myra Falls to work on the transition of employees as best we can," he said.
Adams maintains Campbell River is resilient. The town has dealt with the ups and downs of Myra Falls and the roller-coaster ride that was the forest industry over the last two decades. The sawmill and pulp mill at Elk Falls closed in 2008 and 2010, respectively.
"While there is an impact, I think the community is sensitive and aware of some of the challenges in the mining sector. We have been through this before and we know how to respond and react and take care of the people in our community," the mayor said.
When the mine is operating, about 500,000 tonnes of polymetallic ore, consisting of zinc, copper, lead, gold and silver, are produced annually. Ore is concentrated in an on-site mill and shipped from Campbell River to smelters elsewhere.
By Andrew Duffy - Times Colonist