Bathurst mine to close in 2013

A lead-zinc mine near Bathurst in northern New Brunswick will be shut down next March, mine owner Xstrata Zinc Canada announced on Wednesday.

Xstrata Zinc will help more than 900 workers find jobs

More than 900 people work at Brunswick Mine near Bathurst. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

A lead-zinc mine near Bathurst in northern New Brunswick will be shut down next March, mine owner Xstrata Zinc Canada announced on Wednesday.

The mine employs 842 people, as well as 53 temporary workers, 77 full-time contractors and 33 students.

It is one of the largest employers in the northern part of the province.

The closure is not a matter of market numbers, said general manager Greg Ashe. There simply won’t be anything left to mine after that date.

"Unfortunately, it's a finite resource. We're not able to regrow the ore body. So once we've extracted it, it's gone," he said.

About 2.9 million tonnes of ore are currently left at Brunswick Mine and the company can process about three million tonnes a year.

Some workers in denial

The company will start helping workers find employment at other Xstrata sites, but they will not be in northern New Brunswick, said Ashe.

Many of the workers are nearing retirement, he said.

Ken Smith is one of the workers trapped in the middle. He hasn't been there long enough for a full pension, but is old enough that he doesn't want to leave the area.

"We've been here for a long time. We've got 30-plus years. We're gonna wait four or five years before we'll get to a reduced pension," he said.

Smith said workers have heard talk about the mine closing for years, so many of them don't believe it's really closing.

"There's a lot of people in denial over the date. So it will be a surprise to some of those people."

After Wednesday's announcement, however, Smith is convinced.

Dismantlement disappointing

Officials said the mine, one of the world's largest underground lead and zinc mines, will be dismantled immediately once operations have ceased.

Mike Willitt, who has been working there for 32 years, is disappointed. He believes other mining companies in the area could still use the mine.

"It would be a lot easier for a junior mining company to open a mine with a bore hole like they did at Half Mile Lake and bring their ore there to get processed," said Willitt.

"I think the provincial government could probably do something with that."

Impact on Belledune smelter unclear

It's unclear how the closure will affect the estimated 400 people who work at Xstrata's smelter in Belledune.

Xstrata is investigating other ore locations to keep the smelter in operation, officials said.

Swiss-headquartered Xstrata PLC took over the underground mine, 20 kilometres southwest of Bathurst, in 2006 with its acquisition of Falconbridge Ltd.

The mine, which is close to 50 years old, had been expected to close in 2010, but its life was extended.

It has produced more than 134 million tonnes of ore since it opened in 1964.