It had been seven months since I'd last been out to the Lalor minesite and a lot has changed in that time. I noticed this not long after making the turn from PR 392 onto PR 395. Although the progression of seasons accounted for some of it, the road seemed wider, and host project manager Kim Proctor advised that this had as much to do with the brushed ditches and corners as it did recent modifications to the roadbed. As we turned off of PR 395, the road that took us into Lalor was noticeably wider than the one we just left, but what surprised me at this point was that I could see blue steel and brown sheeting peek intermittently over the treetops far in the distance. I made it out as the production headframe and Proctor confirmed this as we closed in on the property.
The headframe is a massive sentinel of steel, and it looms majestically over the spruce and poplar that skirt the Lalor footprint. Proctor advises that the 6.7-metre-lined diameter shaft and conveyances will be exact replicas of those situated at HudBay’s current flagship property, 777. However, Lalor’s hoist house is noticeably taller and has some distinctive features, such as the ability to access and mobilize all hoists and compressors for maintenance or replacement.
After a short visit to the Lalor office, Proctor sought out Tony Butt, head of health, safety and environment, and Jack Ayotte, the project mine construction manager, and we began our tour.
During the last visit to the property, it was noted that the site was a hive of activity and noise, as contractors busily worked at forming and pouring cement and fabricating the locations where steel would tie into foundations. Currently, the pace hasn’t subsided or quieted. It is just as lively and the 80 or so construction contractors on site have all moved inside, out of those elements, but obviously still within their own.
Knowledgeable and circumspect, Ayotte appears to think easily on his feet and has a good overview of the big picture, which is basically a puzzle with him in charge of putting all the pieces in place. As we walk through the hoist house, it is obvious that he, Proctor, and Butt, are all very proud of the spanking new production, service and spare hoists. They were manufactured and installed by noted British firm, Davey Markam, and their mechanical and electrical components arrived on site by way of over 100 trucks and trailers. The production hoist’s capacity, alone, is 6000 tonnes per day and it is driven by twin 2,500- horsepower electric motors.
The hoist control room is quite large, filled with numerous flat screen monitors, push buttons, and joysticks; Proctor explains that it is the brain of the entire operation. In addition to the operation of the hoists, everything from pump alarms to the functioning of the site water treatment plant will be monitored within this room.
We leave the hoist/compressor house and walk through an aboveground utility corridor in order to access the collar house, or war zone, as Ayotte called it. There were a number of people working in the area, which was under temporary heat. They had just finished the block walls and sheeting was going on as we spoke. "Everyone is right behind one another,” said Ayotte, who was also part of the shaft sinking owners’ team during the building of the 777 Mine. “If you give them an inch of wall, they'll put in an inch of pipe and the electricians have their trucks outside idling, just waiting to get in and run the wire. We have some exceptional contractors and crews here,” he added.
Next, we enter the water treatment plant, which is also awash with activity and noise. Proctor explains that the plant’s water comes from Chisel Lake. “Process water goes directly to site,” she said. “All water that will touch human skin is treated.” She adds that even though the plant’s water is potable, due to company standards they will continue to get all drinking water from the Town of Snow Lake. Additionally, all water for firefighting will be pushed through the plant by a 125-horsepower pump, which will give them the capacity to fight fire for an hour. “That’s not for saving assets, but people,” said Proctor. The plant has auxiliary power if the main power goes down, and waste water discharge from the site ties into the current connection for Chisel North and the waste water treatment plant situated near there.
Proctor exudes confidence and appreciation; she is at home and at ease with her control over a project that will undoubtedly become a legacy in the mining industry. She is also very quick to acknowledge the work and ideas of others. She explains that at the outset of the Lalor project, she and her team sat down with folks from 777 and asked, “If you had to rebuild this project, what would you do differently?” As a result, they tried to incorporate many of those considerations into the Lalor design. Having worked on 777, Ayotte concurred, "I can see it. The changes made here, based on the issues they had there, are nice changes. This is a much more functional hoist house, collar house, compressor house … wait for the next one," he joked!
It is obvious that everything on the surface of the site is progressing on schedule and Proctor says other than some equipment problems in sinking the vent shaft, the underground development has gone extremely well. “The ramp from Chisel North was completed in November,” she said. “The lateral advance to the ventilation shaft breakthrough point is completed and waiting for the shaft.” She adds that Redpath crews have started to ramp down to the 840-level, which is the shaft bottom. They are also beginning to carve out the 825-metre level and will stub it off. “When Chisel North goes down, and those crews enter the Lalor mine, the level will be established for them,” she said. “We will be within 30 metres of the orebody. Redpath’s focus on the Lalor property will be to keep driving development over to the production shaft. The Chisel crew’s focus will be ore extraction and getting the mine set up for operations."
In respect to the Lalor Mill, Proctor says all the geotechnical work on the new concentrator will be done this spring and she hopes to start construction Jan. 1. Discussions on preliminary geotechnical work were taking place between Proctor and Ayotte even as we walked the site. She said that information gathering for permitting is actively taking place in addition to preliminary tendering in order to secure critical components, such as the SAG mill, ball mill and jaw crusher.
Following the site tour and saying our goodbyes to Ayotte and Butt, we got in Proctor’s vehicle and headed over to the Chisel North site. Proctor stated that site geologists Sarah Bernauer and Darren (Zeke) Simms had some interesting drill results that she wanted to see. She explained that they were the first underground exploration drill results from Lalor, out of what is called the Ten lens, which will be accessed for preliminary production. It is primarily a zinc lens and they are doing four-hole fan-out drilling in defining it. This drilling will confirm grade, width and dip of the orebody, as well as its variability between surface holes. She said this would decide the mining method, whether cut and fill post pillar or long hole. “We won't be doing any drilling on the gold ore bodies until earliest April,” said Proctor as we entered the Chisel North core shack. “The focus is on zinc and I am lucky that I hired two knowledgeable geologists that I have worked with over the years and have a great deal of respect for.”
As we entered, we were greeted by Simms and he announced that the coffee was on and drill results were boxed and ready for viewing. Listening to him speak, it is apparent that Simms has an exceptional grasp on his profession and a genuine loyalty and solid respect for those who have gone before him. He effortlessly explains the lay of the land, joking that he paid good money for his geology degree, so darn it, he was going to use some fancy terms. With maps, and cross sections he showed us where they were drilling as well as the direction and degree of the holes. He spoke with knowledge and enthusiasm about the basin and the mine that Lalor would eventually be, as well as other mines that the Chisel Basin holds within her deep and twisted folds. Of the work he and Bernauer were currently doing, he said the primary objective was to make certain the orebody was there. “And it is,” he said assuredly. “The grades are coming up better than what was thought.”
The hole he showed us had a section of 13 metres that Simms felt would assay around 35 per cent zinc. The first hole they drilled was likely 13 per cent, Simms felt. “And that is being conservative,” he said. He also explained that the drilling they were doing will help ensure that development is placed where they want it for the long term of a multiyear mine, particularly when there are multiple lenses in close proximity to each other.
As we spoke of the area in general, both Proctor and Simms mentioned a local mentor, Gerry Kitzler, and the confidence he had in the Chisel Basin, and how he instilled it in all who worked with him. Before we left, Simms also noted that the late Jim Pockett built the large sawhorses that held his drill core. "They've seen a lot of orebodies, people just don't make things like that anymore," he said. Hopefully, they'll see many more!