HUMBOLDT - Lundin Mining Corp. President and CEO Paul Conibear said the company is looking to be a long-term success and pledged that high standards will be maintained for the Eagle Mine.
"Eagle Mine being successful - not just in the construction ahead of schedule or under budget - but to be able to look back in five, seven, eight, 10, 15 years and know this is an outstanding mine and being recognized in the international community that this is an outstanding mine and still being very welcomed by the community, those are our goals, factors for success," Conibear said.
Conibear made the comments recently to a crowd of about 200 employees, government and business officials and residents who have supported the Eagle Mine. Those listeners were guests invited to a ceremony at the Humboldt Mill commemorating the transfer of the Eagle Mine project to Lundin.
A section of former rail spur in Humboldt Township that Lundin Mining Corp. wants to reinstate as an active rail line would haul crushed ore concentrate to a rail line near the mill. The proposal needs Michigan Department of Natural Resources approval. (Journal photo by John Pepin)
In June, Lundin purchased the Eagle project from Rio Tinto for $325 million and the Toronto-based company will spend another $400 million through 2014 to get the mine and its Humboldt Mill into production by late 2014, earlier if possible.
Full production is targeted for mid-2015 and is expected to last until 2022. Additional minerals to be extracted from the mine will include gold, cobalt, platinum and palladium by-products.
Conibear, an avid fisherman who enjoys spending summers at his cabin on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron, said Lundin knows that as ownership changes, there's a lot of uncertainty. He wanted to provide some information on what to expect on the project and from the new owners.
"I would like to state our commitment - our very heartfelt commitment - to the continuity of the high standards that have been set by Rio Tinto and the Eagle team here in regards to safety, environment, local contribution, employment and the overall standards that have been set here over a 10-year period of investment in quite an important mineral discovery," Conibear said.
Conibear said Lundin Mining is a mid-tier base minerals producer, which produces copper, zinc, lead and nickel.
"We're expert underground polymetallic miners and that's exactly what Eagle needs," Conibear said. "It's polymetallic, it's underground and it's got certain nuances that either make it successful or make it challenging. We're pretty good at that, we feel."
Conibear said he thinks "particularly important for this sensitive environment here in the Upper Peninsula" is that Lundin Mining operates "very successfully in a number of very sensitive parts of the world."
The company's most important mine is in southern Portugal and it has another in Spain, both located in arid places where "water is precious," Conibear said.
Another mine is located in Sweden about two hours west of Stockholm, where an important large vacation destination lake is found. The mine is about six miles away, Conibear said.
Lundin recently closed a mine in Ireland, which was surrounded by dairy farms.
"We are used to a variety of very sensitive environments and I think that's a key aspect of being successful here is to have the knowledge and the sensitivity and to maintain the standards that have been set for us," Conibear said.
Conibear said the company is very growth oriented.
"We'd like to grow our company to be more substantial and this will be the fourth important mine that we're adding to our asset base," he said.
Conibear said he thinks the timing of the Eagle project coming on line next year is "quite critical" for Lundin.
"Because our only nickel mine, which is in southern Spain, closes in 2015," Conibear said. "So it's a very good balance to bring up the production here from Eagle as Agua Blanca closes in sync."
Lundin first became interested in the Eagle project in June 2010 when some public releases were issued on "remarkable ore grades being hit in drilling in the Upper Peninsula," Conibear said.
"We immediately took note and started exchanging emails," Conibear said.
Conibear said Rio Tinto rarely sold any of its properties and when it did, only for high prices.
"So we were patient and really started to track it very seriously last year," Conibear said. "We learned a lot about it last year and then the process really gained its formality here in about March of this year, when Rio Tinto corporately had made a decision that ultimately it (Eagle) wasn't quite large enough size for them, although it's high quality."
Conibear said Rio Tinto then invited a number of people into a competitive process.
"We were aggressive and moved quickly," Conibear said. "We knew a lot about it. We always hoped we were in the pole position and were really happy to be able to be the new owner of this mine."
Lundin had previously purchased two former Rio Tinto mines.
"We realized the factors for success in being awarded Eagle from Rio Tinto and to be successful in the future require us to have superior health and safety and environmental and social performance," Conibear said.
Conibear said Lundin urges its workers to think of themselves as shareholders and not just employees.
"We encourage people to own shares in the company and to think long term and I think that really helps in success," Conibear said.
Lundin plans to follow what Conibear called "an excellent road map" laid out by Rio Tinto for community relationships.
"You'll see us foster those relationships. We need that support. And celebrate the successes and to solve the problems that will inevitably come along," Conibear said. "You'll see a lot of open dialogue from us. No different than the past."
Paul McRae, senior vice president of projects for Lundin, will be the most visible member of the corporate team locally. Conibear said McRae has a long history of working in northern climates working in nickel, diamond and other projects from Canada to South Korea to Siberia.
"Paul's got full mandate here," Conibear said.
Conibear said he frequents the company's mine sites and will be at Eagle "fairly regularly."
He said the company fully respects "this pristine environment."
"Safety and well being of people, community and the environment first, that's the way we work," Conibear said. "Reputation for transparency, integrity and community engagement: We won't be here for long and not very successful unless we do that, unless we do it well."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.