Nfld. & Labrador

Teck Resources dinner bittersweet, with mine closing at end of June

A mining company that's about to shut down its copper and zinc mine in Millertown has held an unusual celebration.
Teck Resources held a celebratory dinner for its Duck Pond mine employees on Thursday night. (Julia Cook/CBC)

A mining company that's about to shut down its copper and zinc mine near Millertown held an unusual celebration this week. 

Teck Resources is closing its Duck Pond mine at the end of June, so the company invited workers and dignitaries to mark the occasion Thursday night with a sit-down dinner in Grand Falls-Windsor.

For some, Duck Pond, which opened in 2007 and has been the island's largest underground mine, is more than just a workplace.

"Very sad. We've made some really good friends there," said Sharon Coffin of Lewisporte, who started at the mine eight years ago on the security gate. She now works as an underground equipment operator. 

As a mining town, we've seen it before. We will roll with the punches.- Buchans Mayor Derm Corbett

She told CBC that the closure is a big loss for the workers, but she's remaining stoic about it.

"We spend about six months out of the year together, we're family almost, and we look after each other," said Coffin. 

"I'm still going to pursue the mining career and hoping not to have to move. But if we have to move for that — so be it."

'The money is great, the atmosphere, it's just a great place to work.' - Mine employee Kim Rowsell 

The mine has employed more than 300 people, many of whom are from the central Newfoundland area. 

Kim Rowsell of Robert's Arm, the first woman hired for underground work at the mine, is currently employed as a scoop operator. Like Coffin, she has worked in many roles.

"I started out on a truck, and from there I moved on. I was told to take the scoop, and load myself and come to [the] surface," said Rowsell.

"There's not a whole lot about it that I don't like. The money is great, the atmosphere — it's just a great place to work. Teck has been just great to us. I am absolutely devastated, but I made a lot of really, really good friends."

'We will roll with the punches'

Buchans Mayor Derm Corbett said while he'd like to see the mine still operational 10 years down the road, Teck has provided employment for 30 to 40 full-time workers who live in his town.

"They've supported us at every term, and they will undoubtedly be missed," he said.

"We've seen money flow into the town, and spin-off dollars generated from that. All good things have to tie up at some time."

'We're family almost, and we look after each other- Duck Pond mine employee Sharon Coffin

Corbett said despite the mine's imminent closure, the town remains positive in moving forward.

"We're convinced that what we have now, and what Teck has provided, is highly-skilled workers who will be looking for work elsewhere. Some of the younger people have been preparing for this, they've been looking for work elsewhere," he said.

"Some of the older, more senior workers are hoping that when the barite comes on stream, they can pick up work there. Many of them I believe will not be looking to uproot and move, they'll be looking to get work, as many Newfoundlanders have. As a mining town, we've seen it before. We will roll with the punches." 

Decommissioning the mine

Tech Resources said last year that it couldn't find any more deposits in the immediate area to extend the life of the operation.

Greg Tucker, mine operations manager, said the company has to decommission the mine and then clean up the area, adding that's a long-term commitment.

"We're looking at probably five years, possibly more," Tucker said.

"It really depends, because it's something which we feel our way through as we go. We know that the things we need to do, and it really becomes a question of how long it takes to get there."

Tucker said water quality will be a key issue, and the company will have to meet stringent regulations.

About a dozen people will be employed during the decommissioning phase.

With files from Julia Cook

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