Nfld. & Labrador

Decision expected Aug. 5 on successful bidder for idled St. Lawrence fluorspar mine

The accounting firm overseeing the sales process for the bankrupt St. Lawrence flourspar mine confirms final bids have been submitted and a successful bidder will be selected on Aug. 5.

A final deal for idled must be finalized by Sept. 2, according to court-monitored insolvency process

Here are some samples of fluorspar pulled from the earth near St. Lawrence. The mine, owned Canada Fluorspar, halted operations in February after the company, saddled with heavy debt and following months of losses, ran out of cash. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The accounting firm overseeing the sales process for the insolvent St. Lawrence flourspar mine on Newfoundland and Labrador's Burin Peninsula confirms that final bids have been submitted and a preferred buyer will be selected next week.

"We did receive some offers by the [July 22] bid deadline," Phil Clarke of Grant Thornton said Wednesday morning.

The sales and investment solicitation process for the Canada Fluorspar Inc. mine includes strict non-disclosure agreements, so Clarke said he's unable to say how many bids were submitted, by whom, or the terms.

The nearly 250 companies and investors owed money by Canada Fluorspar, including the Newfoundland and Labrador government, will have to wait a little longer for answers, with Clarke saying any plan to pay creditors will be finalized after the sales process is complete.

The mine closed in February after the company ran out of cash and the owner, Golden Gate Capital, ended its financial support for the operation.

All but a few dozen of the roughly 250 employees were laid off.

Provincial government one of three secured creditors

The mine is being sold under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, with Grant Thornton acting as the monitor.

According to an updated court-approved schedule for the sales process, Grant Thornton must identify a successful bidder by Aug. 5, and then apply to the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court to have the deal formalized by Sept. 2, or earlier.

The mine was one of the few active producers of acid grade fluorspar in North America, with fluorspar deposits known for their accessibility, high grades and an absence of impurities.

According to documents filed with the court by Grant Thornton, Canada Fluorspar owes roughly $95 million to three secured creditors, nearly $23 million to unsecured creditors, and just under $10 million for capital leases of equipment and machinery.

The largest secured creditor is Bridging Finance Inc., which is owed $53 million, the bank HSBC is owed $18 million, and the provincial government provided a $17-million loan.

Bridging and the provincial government have also cost-shared a $6.5-million injection of cash to keep the mine in care and maintenance mode and to fund the sales process.

The sales process is being watched closely by former employees and municipal leaders in the region, and companies that provided goods and services to the mine who are now owned money.

It's estimated that $1.5 million is owed to Burin Peninsula-based companies, which make up a long list of unsecured creditors.

One of those companies is Marystown-based Brenton Group of Companies, which is owed more than $125,000.

"I'm hopefully optimistic that there will be funds available after the secured creditors are paid to pay the unsecured creditors," Brenton said Wednesday.

Brenton is also optimistic that a new owner will be found, and the mine will be reactivated.

"I still believe in the project. I believe in the site. We need it for the economy of the Burin Peninsula. With some changes, proper funding and structure, I still believe this could be a successful, viable business," Brenton said.

Brenton is encouraged by the fact that potential buyers remain interested. The other option, he said, is total bankruptcy.

"If nobody had an interest, we would be in an auction situation where all would be dismantled and sold and shipped around the world. Hopefully that 's not going to happen here," he said.

Fluorspar is one of North America's critical minerals, used in the manufacture of, among other things, lithium ion batteries, solar panels, refrigeration and air conditioning, and steel and aluminum.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Terry Roberts is a reporter with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, and is based in St. John’s. He previously worked for The Telegram, The Compass and The Northern Pen newspapers during a career that began in 1991. He can be reached by email at: Terry.Roberts@cbc.ca.

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