Nfld. & Labrador

New mine on time, on budget as Tacora prepares to restart iron ore production

Confidence has been injected into Labrador West as the former Scully mine prepares to extract iron ore beginning in June.

Liberal leader, incumbent candidate get tour of former Scully mine

Two Tacora workers talk in front of a haul truck, which can hold about 250 tonnes of iron ore. The machine is so big, you can run over a pickup truck and not even notice. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

Labrador West has been injected with confidence, with iron ore extraction set to begin at the former Scully mine in June.

Heavy machinery could be seen clearing land at the site Thursday, as Liberal leader Dwight Ball and Graham Letto, who is seeking re-election in the district, toured the mine.

"Things were kind of not stable in all the mining industry in the area, and today we are in the brink of reproduction," said Letto.

The day after Graham Letto was sworn in as MHA for Labrador West, the pension plan was terminated. In 2014, an estimated 400 people working at the mine and concentrator in Wabush were notified by Cliffs Natural Resources that its operations would be shutting down.

Tacora Mines, based in Minnesota, has taken over the mine and the equipment — some brand new — that was left behind.

Bob Gagne, vice president and general manager of Tacora Operations, said he expects the first train to ship out in June.

"We're in the process of starting up equipment in the plant. Making sure the equipment is ready to take feed on," Gagne said.

"We've got an active team in place, maintenance and operators going through piece by piece identifying deficiency and making repairs."

Retirees help with operation

Many former IOC and Scully mine workers returned to the newly named Tacora Mine to pass on their knowledge of the site.

Gagne said some of those former workers have joined what will be a workforce of 360 upon peak operation. In addition, 50 to 100 employees will be needed to carry out equipment repairs and supplies, he said.

"We were very fortunate to have access to some past retired ore workers, both from the Scully site and some from IOC as well," Gagne said.

"That's one of the tools that allowed us to execute in an efficient and fast manner."

The closure of the Wabush mines in 2014, paired with a slump in iron ore prices, saw Labrador West sink into economic hardship.

"I've seen the cyclical up and down of the mining industry, it's been like it forever, but we feel this time that it's something that's more stable. It's not like the big boom and bust," said Letto, who himself worked in the mining industry for years.

As for Ball, having a project meet timelines is music to his ears.

"It feels great to see a project on time and on budget," he said.

Meanwhile, Wabush mine retirees will soon receive letters in the mail.

Local Wabush Mines pension committee member Rita Pynn said Wednesday that former workers will get approximately 93 per cent of their pensions starting May 1.

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About the Author

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.

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