Xstrata N.B. zinc mine gets reprieve

The life of a 46-year-old New Brunswick lead-zinc mine could be extended by another year.

The life of the 46-year-old lead-zinc mine near Bathurst in northern New Brunswick could be extended by another year.

Mine owner Xstrata Zinc had been expected to close the operation this month, but now says the mine will remain open into 2011.

The mine's 900 employees are voting on a new collective agreement to cover the extra time that work will continue. Euclide Hache, a spokesman for the United Steelworkers union, said those extra months will make a difference, especially for workers like himself who need the time to be eligible for a full pension.

"Well, it means that some people are going to continue to work, not going to have to leave their home before 2011," Hache said. "They're going to work until the end of 2011, and maybe the end of 2012, and put more money in the region, in the community."

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

The mine and concentrator has an annual capacity of 3.6 million tonnes of ore containing zinc, lead, copper, and silver, according the company's website.  

Extending the life of the mine will benefit Bathurst and the whole Chaleur region, Donald Hammond, executive director of Enterprise Chaleur, said Monday.

"It matters for the workforce, of course, and the longer it stays open, the longer the benefit for the regional economy," he said.  

But Hammond said it's important to remember that the mine will close eventually once its ore deposits run out, and work must be done to diversify the economy in order to minimize the impact of losing one of the region's largest employers.

Last week, Xstrata announced it will open an underground coal mine in Donkin, N.S., more than 20 years after it was dug.