FAIRBANKS - Gov. Frank Murkowski and about 100 guests celebrated the official opening of the Pogo Mine.
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At a ceremony Monday in an industrial building at the mine 37 miles northeast of Delta Junction, Murkowski commended the owners and said that development of the state's natural resources, including minerals, petroleum, fish and tourist attractions, was critical for building a strong state economy.
He credited his administration with helping bring about the Pogo Mine and the Kensington gold mine north of Juneau by easing regulatory processes while maintaining environmental standards.
"We don't just talk about it, we do it," he said. "We've committed to work with the industry."
The Pogo Mine poured its first gold in mid-February. Mine operators predict production of 400,000 ounces of gold per year over 10 years, which would make it the largest gold mine in the state.
The mine is owned by Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. Ltd. and Sumitomo Corp. of Japan and Teck Cominco Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia. Teck-Pogo Inc. operates the mine.
Murkowski and Kazuo Tanaka, the Japanese consul general, described the mine as a jump-start of Japanese investment in the state.
"This marks the significant renewal of a Japanese partnership in Alaska," said Murkowski.
Tanaka said he hoped the mine would open other opportunities for Japanese investment. A 15-year recession in Japan had caused investment in the state to shrink, he said.
Murkowski took a tour of the mine, including a trip underground. He wore a white protective coveralls, fluorescent vest and steel-toed boots as he toured the mine's refinery, where the 40th gold bar, weighing 80 pounds and worth roughly $600,000, was on display.
Michael Allan, an engineering vice president at Teck Cominco, said the mine is running at 75 to 80 percent capacity because two filters used to process tailings are not working as well as expected. A third has been ordered.
A giant conveyor belt from the mouth of the underground mine to the mill will be commissioned in about a week, he said.
Jon Dufendach of Delta Industrial Services said the economic effect of the mine has been great.
"They were our best customer last year," he said. "It's just been really good for Delta."
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