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Greens Creek largely unaffected by Hecla's Idaho mine closure

Posted: January 17, 2012 - 1:05am

Hecla Mining Co., owner of Greens Creek Mine, was recently forced to shut down operations on its Lucky Friday mine in northern Idaho.

The shutdown follows a December 2011 rock burst that injured seven miners at the mine. Mine operators are required to clear built up material in the mine’s mile-deep Silver Shaft.

Hecla was in the process of expanding Lucky Friday with the addition of the No. 4 shaft, Hecla spokeswoman Melanie Hennessey said.

“It represents the growth of our asset,” Hennessey said.

The new shaft is expected to raise silver production at the mine from 3 million ounces a year to 5 million ounces. The project, previously expected to be complete by 2016, is on hold until clean-up is finished. Clean up could take a year, she said.

Hennessey said Greens Creek, Hecla’s largest mine, is expected to see little impact from the Lucky Friday shutdown.

“Greens Creek has always been our primary cash flow,” Hennessey said. “It’s close to 70 percent of our production.” While up until its shutdown Lucky Friday produced an average of 3 million ounces of silver, Greens Creek mines more than 7 million ounces.

Hennessey said investors only will be hit by the delay in development of No. 4. A majority of the cash flow from Lucky Friday was earmarked for the capital expense of development of No. 4. Development of No. 4 ceased when cash flow from No. 4 ceased.

Hennessey said Hecla’s top priority is employee safety. The shutdown will give the company a chance to evaluate practices and make improvements where necessary, she said. These safety improvements may translate to Greens Creek.

“Prior to incidents in prior months, Lucky Friday went 25 years with out a fatality.

One is too many, of course, but we had an excellent record,” Hennessey said.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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