Flin Flon's only mine slated to close by 2021, future of 800 jobs uncertain
Efforts to replace mine floundered; mill and zinc plant likely to close as well
A mining operation in Flin Flon that employs 800 people will leave the community in three years.
The closure of Hudbay's 777 mine — the only mine in the northern Manitoba city — has long been forecasted, but employees learned this week through an internal letter that the company's attempts to find a replacement for the mine have fallen short.
The mining city's largest employer will also close its mill in Flin Flon, 630 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, and will "most likely" cease operations at its zinc plant by 2021.
The closures will inevitably result in job losses, though the company expects to transfer some positions to nearby mine and mill operations in Snow Lake, Man.
'We have to be honest'
"We have to be honest: after mining for 90 years in the Flin Flon area, we now know that we won't have an anchor mine to replace 777 and sustain operations in Flin Flon the same way they are today," said the internal letter, which the company supplied to CBC News on Wednesday.
"Despite a lot of work over the past few years, the most likely scenario is that mining operations will cease in Flin Flon in 2021. As a result, the Flin Flon mill will also cease operations," said the memo to employees, which also indicated the zinc plant is likely to close that year.
"Our efforts to find new sources of ore from 777 did not turn out as we hoped."
Robert Assabgui, vice-president of Hudbay's Manitoba business unit, wrote the facility would likely only have ore from its Lalor mine, more than 200 kilometres east of Flin Flon, at its disposal. That mine will be able to produce only half the feed of zinc used at its plant currently.
"It is unlikely we will be able to technically or commercially operate the plant at this reduced throughput," he said.
Assabgui wrote it was too soon to say how many employees will be out of work.
"The truth is we are working to figure it out, but we don't have all of the information we need right now."
The Hudbay executive said the company expects to transfer employees to the Stall mill, Lalor mine and a refurbished New Brit Gold mill, near Snow Lake.
"We anticipate offering training to help people transition to future roles, but we also expect that job loss will be part of the outcome," he wrote.
We don't have any firm basis to believe exploration will yield a timely solution at this point and we don't want to give anyone false hope- Memo to Hudbay employees
Scott Brubacher, a company spokesperson, said more than 300 people are eligible for retirement in the next several years.
To prepare for the transition out of Flin Flon, the company previously unveiled a three-pillar plan to mitigate the loss to employees and neighbouring communities.
The plan initially focused on ramping up production at the Lalor mine and Stall mill, which has happened. But the third pillar — maintaining operation of the zinc plant — no longer seems feasible, the memo concluded.
Lifeline for zinc plant
The lifespan of the plant may be extended, however, because of the discovery of the Pen deposit, which is located seven kilometres from the Lalor mine, but the supply is marginal and would only provide a short-term solution, the Hudbay memo said.
The company asserts it is not giving up on northern Manitoba.
Hudbay spent $19 million on exploration this year and will continue to invest in finding untapped resources.
"But we don't have any firm basis to believe exploration will yield a timely solution at this point and we don't want to give anyone false hope," Assabgui said.
Hundreds of jobs are likely at risk if Hudbay pulls up its stakes in Flin Flon.
The news of the impending closure prompted fiery discussion Wednesday at the Manitoba Legislature.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew accused the Progressive Conservative government of refusing to save jobs.
He likened the government's apathy to what he characterized as inaction on the part of the Ontario and federal governments to General Motors' surprise decision earlier this week to shutter its Oshawa, Ont., plant and lay off 2,500 people.
After question period, Blaine Pedersen, minister of growth, enterprise and trade, told reporters all hope is not lost.
He's optimistic the company's mining exploration will pay dividends, and that ramping up operations in Snow Lake will bring more mining jobs.
He said there will also be openings after older employees retire.
"It is by no means the end of the life of Flin Flon," Pedersen said. "I met with the community, the mayor and council, at the Association of Manitoba Municipalities [convention] — they're excited about other pursuits."
He said emergency assistance from the government is not required at this stage.
'Business as usual'
"The mine continues to work, so immediate assistance? No,'" he said.
"It's business as usual from now till 2021, and we'll continue to dialogue with the community as they get closer to there," the minister said.
If this mining operation shuts down and if these jobs leave, there's not going to be a whole lot of the community left.- NDP Leader Wab Kinew
"Perhaps HudBay will have more prospects, mine potential, by then."
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the current government, and the previous NDP government, should have discovered more minerals years ago, and now they're scrambling.
"Even if you were to find something, a good strike, tomorrow it would take years for all the licensing to actually make it happen and get it up and running."
Kinew argues the government must do everything in its power to save good jobs.
"The government appears only interested in, 'Ah, we got two years, what's the big worry here?' Well, the worry is that if this mining operation shuts down and if these jobs leave, there's not going to be a whole lot of the community left."
A request for comment from Flin Flon Mayor Cal Huntley was not returned by deadline on Wednesday.