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North pit dewatering starts at Griffith

By Lindsay Briscoe

As the pump started up, and the water began to flow through the line and up over the hill, everyone was waiting for a grandiose spout of water to shoot up into the air on the other side. And even though it never happened – there were only some modest bubbles breaking the mirror-like surface of Bruce Lake – it was still enough to spur cheers of joy from the Northern Iron Corp (NIC) team members gathered at the Griffith Mine site on the evening of Oct. 22.

Dewatering of the North Pit has begun and signifies a key step in getting the mine back into production in the next few years.

The dewatering permit NIC obtained from the Ministry of Environment means that the company can remove the first 25 m of water from the pit. Dewatering is a costly procedure. The pumps send about two thousand litres of water a minute through the lines which NIC expects will burn over eleven thousand litres of diesel every four days. According to NIC’s website, the entire dewatering of the North pit is expected to take three to four months.

Once they reach the first bench (flat step dug inside the pit) they will be able to start phase two of drilling. This process will involve testing the mineralization up to 330 m. Thirty two holes will be drilled on 13 lines for a total of 12,000 metres.

“We’re probably going to mine seven million tonnes a year so we need to know how much material there is and what the economics are,” says Michael Hepworth, Vice President for Corporate Development. “Once we’ve got that worked out we’ll begin to build the mine.”

NIC will specialize in a metallic product called hot briquetted iron (HBI). HBI is concentrated into dense briquettes about the size of a bar of soap. It is relatively easy to transport, handle and store. Hepworth says that, at present, it is worth about 400 dollars a tonne.

Scrap metal, which is commonly used in the production of steel, is on a decline and HBI is one of the most sought after alternatives, especially in rapidly developing countries like China. In fact, NIC has already sold 960,000 tonnes, or three quarters of what it plans to produce in the first year, to Chinese companies.

Hepworth says that NIC hopes to strike a deal with Domtar in regards to transportation of the product.

“We’ve also got the U.S as a potential market because we can ship right into the U.S,” says Hepworth. “There’s a railway line that used to run right down to Amesdale…the right of way still exists…so we’re hoping to negotiate with Domtar so they can use the road and we can use the railway line to export out.”

Job creation

Hepworth is optimistic about the number of local jobs the new project is going to open up.

“Griffith used to employ about 600 people at its peak. We don’t think we’ll employ quite as many, because the new technology doesn’t require as many people, but it’ll be close to that,” he says.

NIC already employs local people in drilling, core splitting, assay testing, site security and maintenance. The company expects to be in full production by 2016.

Old Griffith Mine

The original Griffith Mine, owned by Stelco (now U.S Steel Canada), was expected to last 25 to 30 years but closed its doors in 1986 after 18 years of operation.

The Griffith property is approximately 1,776 hectares in size. For several years after the mine closed, the property was accessible to visitors who hiked, walked dogs and observed wildlife around its network of trails and Bruce Lake.

Northern Iron Corp took ownership of 100 per cent of the Griffith property from Larry Herbert on Aug. 4, 2010. As part of the purchase agreement, Herbert retained all surface rights on the property.

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