Real mining work will begin soon at the Kensington Mine northwest of Juneau.
Miners will begin drilling and blasting the underground rock next month, getting it ready to haul to a mill facility just down the hill from the portal, Coeur Alaska Vice President and General Manager Tom Henderson said.
The mill is "ready to go" and the tailings facility is well under way, he said, putting the company on schedule to begin gold production during the third quarter of this year, as projected.
The gold mine is operated by Coeur Alaska, a subsidiary of Idaho-based Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp.
Underground blasting will take place along the Kensington vein, which is 3,000 feet in vertical extent and 1,500 feet in strike length.
A full-day mill systems run last week with water but no rock went well, Henderson said. The mill is where chunks of rock hauled out of the mine are crushed and separated into the valuable ore and waste rock, also called tailings.
A lawsuit halted activities on the tailings facility in 2006 and the project was delayed for three years. Conservationists said the tailings disposal plan violated the Clean Water Act but the mine company won its U.S. Supreme Court case last year, allowing plans to proceed. Construction restarted seven months ago.
A 17,000-foot-long tailings line, made of 6-inch pipe, will carry tailings from the mill to a storage site at Lower Slate Lake. An earthen dam at the lake is finished, 85 percent of the tailings line is installed, and a crew used a backhoe Thursday to dig a foundation for a water treatment plant.
Henderson said the mild winter helped keep construction on schedule.
Gold-bearing material in the form of a concentrate will be packaged at the mill, put in containers and shipped to a refinery. Coeur Alaska has yet to choose a company to refine the gold. Gold is trading for about $1,050 an ounce this month.
Coeur Alaska expects to produce 40,000 ounces of gold at the Kensington this year. At four tons of rock per ounce, 160,000 tons of rock will be moved and processed out of the mountain by year's end. It will take about three months to ramp up to full operations once the mine goes into production.
Camp life and work schedules
New temporary living quarters in an area workers call "upper camp" are completed. The two-story, pre-fabricated building has 120 beds.
The new quarters will replace many smaller buildings and cabins located in a lower camp.
About 150 people are staying at the camp each day as miners and construction crews rotate on different work schedules.
Coeur Alaska has hired 106full-time workers in preparation for gold production. Another 20 offers have been made, Henderson said.
Ten percent of employees are women.
"I've been amazed with how blessed we are with good, Alaska candidates," Henderson said. The last time the company hired in 2007, the booming economy made it harder to find qualified candidates in Juneau, he said.
About 200 people will be employed year-round during production - 170 employees of Coeur Alaska and 30 contract workers. Miners hold about one-quarter of the positions. Others are mill workers, mechanics, electricians or environmental engineers, to name a few.
All employees will work on a rotation schedule of two weeks on and one week off.
Greens Creek Mine, operated by Hecla Mining Co. on Admiralty Island near Juneau, uses a similar schedule, Henderson said.
Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Current employmentat Kensington Mine
Total workers: 284
Juneau residents: 60%
Other SE Alaska residents: 12%
Alaska residents: 84%
*Berners Bay Human Resources Development Consortium
Source: Coeur Alaska