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Merritt mines close, 80 out of work

As many as 80 miners in this Interior city are out of work because one local mine has shut down permanently after 50 years of operation and another has been ordered shut down for safety issues.

The miners have been employed at Craigmont Mines, which produced magnetite and is located about 15 kilometres northwest of Merritt, and Huldra Silver Inc.'s mine, located about 20 kilometres northwest of the city.

Richard Hermann, owner of the Craigmont Mines, said permanent shutdown operations are underway.

"The reserves are pretty well all gone," Hermann said.

The company extracted about $5 million per year of magnetite out of the tailings produced between 1961 and 1982 by the former Craigmont owner, which mined for copper.

Magnetite is used by the western Canadian metallurgic coal industry to process coal.

Craigmont expects to continue extracting magnetite this spring from tailings at the Mount Polley Mine, about 100 kilometres northeast of Williams Lake.

"There really doesn't seem to be any opportunity that we will start up (at the Merritt location) again," Hermann said.

The mine typically closes this time of the year, but only for winter, as the equipment can't be used in freezing weather.

Craigmont opened in 1961 as a copper producer, shutting down in 1982 because the copper price sunk too low for profit. The current owners bought the mine in 1985 to produce magnetite out of the old Craigmont tailings pile.

Hermann said employees knew for several months about the closure and are receiving severance packages. Many of them have been relocated to other mines, and some will move to the Mount Polley operation, he added.

Low lighting and poor ventilation forced the Ministry of Energy and Mines to shut down Huldra Silver Inc.'s Merritt location, a ministry spokesperson said Friday.

The mine employs about 50 people, many of whom were laid off, though an exact number wasn't released.

A company employee who didn't want to be named for fear of being fired said the mine closed Nov. 1.

"It's very unusual for a mine inspector to shut it down," he said. "The ones that are laid off are uncertain about what's going on."

A ministry spokesperson said the violations focused on safety, health and the reclamation code of BC.

These included little to no lighting, inappropriate ventilation around reagent tanks, ship ladders instead of staircases, inappropriate guarding around pulleys and pinch points, wood handrails and bare-metal plates as outdoor walkways.

"The province plans to visit the site this weekend to ensure all violations have been corrected before the shutdown is lifted," the ministry spokesperson said.

The Canadian Press


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