WAKEFIELD, Mich. (WLUC) - At the beginning of 2017, Highland Copper Company Inc. began a feasibility study to create a copper mine in the Wakefield/Ironwood area.
In February, MDOT awarded the company an economic development grant worth nearly $4.8 million, upgrading the road from Wakefield to the future mine.
"So the grant, it's called a Category A grant, that was required to upgrade County Road 519 from the city of Wakefield out to the mine site to make it a Class A road, which means that you can operate heavy loads down it 365 days a year, 24/7," says Tim Lynott, Manager of Finance and Administration of Highland Copper Company Inc. "Being a mine site, there are heavy loads associated with it, concentrate and construction and whatnot, so it was required to make the mine feasible or not feasible, but to make it work. It required to have a Class A road out to the mine site."
The new road will be under construction beginning in the spring of next year, and will open doors to the new facility that will go along with the mine. It's called the Copperwood Project, and Highland Copper Company Inc. says it will create 250 jobs during construction.
"The facility, it's an interesting size. We're going to produce over 6,000 tons of ore coming from the underground mine and the 6,000 tons will go directly to the process plant. So we're going to mine say 2.2 million tons of ore per year for the next 12 years. So as soon as we start the operation in 2021 we're going to be in operation for at least 12 years," explains Sylvain Collard, General Manager of Highland Copper Company Inc.
Before construction of the mine can take place, Highland Copper Company must complete the feasibility study, which will tell how much copper is in each drilling area. The study is set to be complete in June, and drilling will go depths of 1,300 feet.
"If everything goes well, we have the permitting in place let's say in Q4 of this year, we're going to be able to start the construction, and the construction will be for the next two years. So if everything goes well and we're going to work pretty hard to make that happen, we should start the operation in Q1 2021," says Collard.
Once the facility is fully functional, Highland Copper Company says an additional 250 mining jobs will be created, and they hope this is only beginning of copper mines in the area.
"So the Copperwood Project will be our first project, and after that in the future we have some other projects planned for the next 10 years. So Copperwood is the first stone of let's say two, three projects in the future," Collard says. "We have also a potential with White Pine. White Pine was a mine in operation for let's say almost 50 years in the area, and after that as soon as we come up with the feasibility study for that project we're going to start to build it if the numbers are good. And after that, we have in Marquette the UPX Exploration Team in place, and the team is working pretty hard to find some other copper deposits for the future."
Not only is the Copperwood Project creating mining jobs, but it's also creating a number of other business opportunities in the area.
"Mining provides opportunities both direct and indirect, that's kind of your spin-off or spill over effect. The road to the mine site is required to operate the mine, but it's going to effect more than just the mine. It's going to allow businesses and residents better access, and even visitors to the Porcupine Mountains State Park better access, so there's opportunities for other stakeholders to use it," explains Lynott. "So we thought it was a good partnering opportunity with the local community and the state of Michigan, kind of a win-win-win. I mean we needed it but it's going to provide the other opportunities in the local community and the local region."