End of the tunnel

BIG BAY – Redpath Mining Contractors and Engineers are expected to complete their tunneling work at Rio Tinto’s Eagle Mine Friday, after nearly two years of effort.

Workers first began drilling into bedrock in September 2011 as work on the tunnel began. Since then, Redpath, which is headquartered in North Bay, Ont., has built more than two miles of underground tunnels.

“The main decline tunnel, vent raise (ventilation shaft), egress raise (secondary escape) and several development levels are complete,” said Rio Tinto spokesman Daniel Blondeau. “This concludes the pre-operations underground work at Eagle.”

The mine reaches about 800 feet at its deepest point.

Blondeau said the underground tunneling work was “exceptional” and was completed without a single loss time injury.

“This is an outstanding feat in their line of work,” Blondeau said. “Redpath’s professionalism and performance is outstanding, and we especially commend them on their impeccable safety record.”

Blondeau said Redpath personnel will be removing their equipment from the mine site over the next few weeks.

“Redpath has 40 employees associated with the contract, of which 21 are local,” Blondeau said. “These people now have specialized skills that can be used at other projects or for future mining at Eagle.”

The Eagle Mine – located in Michigamme Township on the Yellow Dog Plains – is an underground mining operation that will mine and backfill the ore body, which contains nickel and copper. Rio Tinto will use drilling and blasting to remove the ore in stopes.

At the mine, underground trucks will move the ore to a coarse ore storage area, above ground. From there, the ore from the mine will be trucked to the Humboldt Mill, crushed and taken by rail to Canada for further processing.

The sloped roadway leading into the mine, which is on a 13 percent grade, will allow for transport of workers into the ground, while also serving as the route for removal of ore from the mine.

First production is slated to take place during the second half of 2014. Over its seven to eight year lifespan, the mine is expected to produce 300 million pounds of nickel, 250 million pounds of copper and small amounts of other metals.

Blondeau said with the tunneling work complete, the mining company will focus on additional tasks.

“Eagle will next request bids for the mining during operations, the remainder of the surface facilities at both the mine and mill, and the ore transportation,” Blondeau said. “In addition, the Marquette County Road Commission will start work on upgrading the existing roads.”

Rio Tinto officials said the capital investment of the Eagle Project will be more than $469 million.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.