Voisey's Bay expansion has industry, communities buzzing

From Labrador business and Indigenous leaders, to the mayor of Long Harbour, it seems everyone is welcoming the $2B expansion to the Voisey's Bay mine.

Company announced $2B mine expansion Monday

Voisey's Bay will transition from surface to underground mining, extending the mine's lifespan by 15 years. (CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador business, Indigenous and municipal officials alike are applauding Monday's announcement of a $2-billion expansion to the Voisey's Bay mine.

"To  be quite honest with you, it's bigger than we thought it would be," Sterling Peyton, chair of the Labrador North Chamber of Commerce, told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning, adding the announcement put a "spring in [his] step."

"I'm happy for the Labrador Inuit who are currently working at the mine," said Johannes Lampe, the president of Nunatsiavut, which also holds benefits agreements with Vale, the Brazilian mining giant that operates Voisey's Bay.

The mine, which sits on Nunatsiavut and Innu Nation traditional land near Nain on Labrador's north coast, contains one of the world's richest deposits of nickel, as well as quantities of cobalt and copper.

In the announcement Monday, government and company officials detailed that Vale will extend the mine's life by about 15 years through a transition from surface to underground mining, creating an expected 1,700 jobs. 

Construction to expand the mine is set to begin in the summer, with Vale promising mining operations by April 2021. (Vale/Canadian Press)

'The workforce is here'

Peyton said the timing of the expansion announcement is fortuitous for Labrador tradespeople. With the end of the Muskrat Falls dam construction in sight, the mine expansion presents an opportunity to continue working close to home.

"A lot of our people are working over there. They developed new skills, they've got new certifications that they've never had before. I think now they've got an opportunity to keep these certifications up to date," he said.

Sterling Peyton, chair of the Labrador North Chamber of Commerce, says Labrador's mining sector is now maturing, both in terms of workforce and associated infrastructure. (CBC)

Peyton predicted other sectors, such as housing, would probably not see another boom as experienced with the start of Muskrat Falls. Instead, he sees the mine expansion as helping to mature and stabilize the overall industry.

"I think the workforce is here now. And I think the workforce is better than it was, to tell you the truth," he said.

"There is a future in this … there's suddenly going to be people working out there [at the mine] right now that will have the ability to probably retire. I would never have thought that was going to happen."

Johannes Lampes, president of the Nunatsiavut government, hopes Labrador Inuit can move into senior and leadership roles at the mine. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Lampe said the expansion will help continue to transform and train Labrador Inuit, albeit at a cost.

"Traditionally, Inuit are hunters, trappers, fishers and gatherers … but those days are slowly going, and our children and our grandchildren are now learning to become miners, and other things too," he said.

"This mine will help a lot of Labrador Inuit who want to work and be able to support their communities and their families."

Lampe hoped the mine's expansion would help see Inuit move into leadership roles in the sector, and give rise to more self-determination.

Long Harbour happiness

The good spirits aren't contained to the Big Land. News of the expansion also went over well on the Avalon Peninsula town of Long Harbour, where Vale's nickel processing plant is located.

Long Harbour Mayor Gary Keating hopes to attract some of the commuting workforce to settle in his town. (CBC)

"It's fantastic," said Gary Keating, the town's mayor.

"It will enable us to better plan and do things that we may not normally be able to do, enhance the town's services and encourage people to come live in the community."

According to the 2016 census, Long Harbour has a population of 185, a big drop from 2011's population of 298. Keating said while most of the plant's 650-odd employees are commuters, he hopes the prospect of 15 more years of work may encourage some of those to settle in the town, about an hour's drive outside St. John's.

"We'll certainly be trying to entice people to take that move and come see what our town is, and how we can make it a place to live and work."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Labrador Morning and The St. John's Morning Show