New Brunswick

Caribou mine near Bathurst halts production

The company that operates the Caribou underground mine near Bathurst has stopped production for the foreseeable future, laying off most of its 250 employees and 80 contractors.

Zinc, lead and silver mine had about 330 workers

The Caribou mine is 50 kilometres west of Bathurst. (Radio-Canada/Michel Nogue)

The company that operates the Caribou underground mine near Bathurst has stopped production for the foreseeable future, laying off about 250 employees and 80 contractors.

British Columbia-based Trevali Mining Corp. announced Thursday it's shifting the mine into care and maintenance mode as a result of the plunging price of zinc and the coronavirus pandemic.

Trevali mines for zinc, lead and silver at the property about 50 kilometres west of Bathurst. 

"I'm very disappointed that we had to make this decision at this time," Ricus Grimbeek, Trevali's president and CEO, said in an interview. He said the company is suspending operations, but not closing the mine.

The layoffs affect about 90 per cent of its workforce. The company says the decision isn't a reflection of its employees or operating conditions in New Brunswick.

Ricus Grimbeek, president and CEO of Trevali Mining Corp., says he's disappointed the company had to make the decision to suspend production at the Caribou mine. (Submitted/Trevali Mining Corp.)

Dale Knowles is president of Local 1306 of the United Steelworkers, which represents about 75 workers on the surface of the mine. He said workers were informed as they arrived for work Thursday morning. 

"It's not a happy time for anybody for sure, but I must commend the workers," Knowles said. " Everybody's just taking it pretty much realistically, that it is what it is."

Knowles said his understanding is that about 25 people will remain on the job to help with shutdown work in the coming weeks. He'll continue working until mid-April and then will also be laid off.

No timeline

The company offered no timeline for when production could resume. Grimbeek said zinc prices have hit an all-time low. 

Dale Knowles, president of Local 1306 of the United Steelworkers, represents about 70 people who work on the surface of the mine. (Submitted/Dale Knowles)

"The reality is that we're indefinitely suspending because we really do not know when the markets will be at a point where this operation can make money again," Grimbeek said.

The company will provide "transition assistance" to its workforce in addition to what Grimbeek described as a generous severance package.

"As negative as things seem today, I suspect we'll get up and running someday," Knowles said.

Bathurst Mayor Paolo Fongemie described it as "just a perfect storm" for the region during the coronavirus pandemic. 

"With the smelter before Christmas, now the mine, and with COVID-19, small businesses are struggling right now because they have to be closed," the mayor said. 

"It is a major blow because it's good jobs, good jobs in the trades, good-paying jobs," Fongemie said. 

He said production halting will have a ripple effect on other businesses that are part of the supply chains, such as trucking companies that moved ore to the Port of Belledune.

He called for the provincial government to step up efforts to assist northern New Brunswick.

About 370 people worked at the Caribou mine. (Trevali)

The Caribou mine has been in continuous production since 2015, according to Trevali's website.

The company said it expects to incur one-time costs of $5 million US over the next two months related to moving the mine into care and maintenance mode, with costs after that of about $500,000 US per month.

It says that monthly spending will "ensure that the mine, mill, and associated infrastructure are safe and secure" and ready to restart if conditions allow.

Trevali also operates mines in Burkina Faso, Namibia and Peru.

About the Author

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

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