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DOING SOME DIGGING at KEMESS

I spent a day this week at the Kemess gold-copper mine in northern British Columbia. In getting information for an...


I spent a day this week at the Kemess gold-copper mine in northern British Columbia. In getting information for an article that will appear in an issue of CMJ next year about the turn-around at the mine, I spoke with many staff, hourly workers and contractors. I want to thank them for their welcome and openness with me.

Everyone expressed a certain pride in the operation, their co-workers or how the mine is doing. They also each had problems that they were dealing with.

There is an employee of the catering staff. She appreciates the work and says the food they serve is good. She has to leave her children for four-week stints while she is at the site, "But they’re older now and they understand," she says.

The mine geologist really knows the different rock types in the pit. He and his colleagues hustle to log every blasthole that is drilled. They characterize the ore for type, grade, hardness, mineralogy, and alteration so they can tell the processing plant what to expect the next day. Then the mill can tweak its grinding strategy and reagent addition. (This is no small operation with 42,000 to 60,000 tonnes per day throughput.) The geologist also has to flag any waste that is potentially acid-generating so it can be stored in a segregated site on an impermeable pad for eventual return to the pit when mining is finished. So the geologist’s communications are vital to both processing and environmental protection at the site. His problem is that he is kept so busy in his work there is no time to visit the rest of the property and get a broader view of the regional geology.

The mill shift foreman stays at Kemess because he likes it therehis crew, the challenges and changesand he loves the two weeks in/two weeks out rotation. A special challenge is that his crew is below complement because people are out on sick leave or have left and not been replaced. So they manage to cover the gaps and get the work done.

Every individual at Kemess has a small but important part to play, like pieces of a puzzle, and it takes all 400 employees plus contractors to make it work. The result is very visible: This year’s target is 295,000 ounces of gold and 84 million pounds of copper in concentrate trucked and then railed to Noranda’s Horne smelter in Quebec.

Every job at Kemess has it repetitive, mind-numbing aspects and frustrations beyond belief at times. Every flight out is followed by a flight back in, often to confront the same problems all over again. These people have nevertheless made a personal decision to do their jobs well for the reward of enough money to care for themselves and their families.

It takes adults acting like adults for this to work.

For that I salute every individual at Kemess. Without your dedication, our society would not run quite as well, our wilderness would not be as well protected, and our economy would not be as healthy.

Hang in there.


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