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Creek Molybdenum Mine (TCM) is located between Stanley and Challis and
is Idahos largest mine at 3,000 acres. This immense mine is a serious
concern for Idahoans who care for Salmon River country -- its just
five miles from and 2,000 feet above the Salmon River.
TCM started molybdenum
production in 1983 with annual production of 12-18 million pounds. Moly
is used to strengthen steel, in lubricants, and for automobile airbags.
moly prices have caused the mines work force to drop from 195 people
in 1998 to 60 in 2002. Once touted as being a 50-year project, TCM may
only operate another 10 years, or close sooner if prices continue to drop.
The mines gigantic tailings dam, the mile-long, 1500-foot deep open
pit, and massive waste rock dumps will need monitoring and maintenance
forever. The mine finalized a revised operating plan in 1999.
about Thompson Creek Mine
3,000 acres in size (2520 acres now patented)
1872 Mining Law allows "patenting" of public land
for $5.00 acre
In 1999 mine paid $5.00/acre for 1,995 acres of public land
Began production in 1983
Produces molybdenum, or "moly", used to strengthen
steel, in lubricants and for automobile air bags
Expected remaining life is up to another 10 years
Employs 60 people (down from 195 in 1998)
Fluctuating moly prices have caused past layoffs and two extended
shutdowns (the latest in 1993-94)
Idahos Salmon River Mountains
6,000-8,000 feet elevation
5 miles from and 2,000 feet above the Salmon River
Affects five Salmon River tributaries
Severe winters, wet springs, intense summer storms
30 miles from 1983 Mt. Borah Earthquake (7.3 on Richter scale)
are five key
at Thompson Creek:
Bruno Creek tailings facility: a 500-acre impoundment fills Bruno Creek
canyon and contains over 100 million tons of processed mine waste, some
containing pyrite. Eventually and depending on the mine’s life, the
tailings facility will double in size to 200-million tons. The impoundment
is held back by a 600-foot sand embankment (the "sand dam"). Bruno Creek
flows into Squaw Creek, then the Salmon River. Events such as landslides,
earthquakes, embankment erosion or water systems failures could expose
pyrite to air and water, causing acid mine drainage (AMD) to form, sending
acid and dissolved metals downward toward the Salmon River.
After tedious investigative work, prying information from agencies, Idaho
conservationists broke the news in 1994 that AMD had been forming on the
embankment since 1987. After denying AMDs existence on the gold-colored,
700-foot high embankment, agencies and the mine finally took action in
the late 1990s to remove and/or bury acid-forming sands on the dams
face. However, pyrite-laden waste rock is still being placed within the
impoundment. For more on acid mine drainage,
mine and IDWR engineers are on record claiming the tailings facility is
safe. Other experts including EPA personnel have expressed doubt about
the dams stability. One threat: earthquakes --TMC is only 30 miles
airline from the 1983 Mt. Borah earthquake center which measured a whopping
7.3 on the Richter scale.
Thompson Creek open pit: the mile-long pit eventually will be 1500-feet
deep and is expected to fill slowly with 600-feet of water of unknown
quality at mines end. There is dispute whether the pit water will
be toxic, a special concern for waterfowl in the Salmon River canyon area.
The mines 1980 EIS said the pit water would "be like a mountain
lake". A study is underway which may help determine water quality.
Buckskin and Pat Hughes Creek waste dumps: moly mining produces vast amounts
of waste rock and these dumps now obliterate two formerly beautiful canyons.
Eventually Buckskin and Pat Hughes Creek valleys will contain 600-million
tons of overburden, including some ore containing pyrite and other metals.
Both creeks drain into Thompson Creek, a significant Salmon River tributary.
Like all facets at TCM, these waste rock dumps will need monitoring for
perpetuity, and perhaps water quality treatment if/when AMD develops.
Transportation of hazardous materials. Truck accidents along the crooked
Salmon River highway and into the river itself have been common. So far,
the substances spilled (including bags of moly) have reportedly not killed
fish or contaminated the water. Trucks hauling moly and/or other products
sometimes go through the Wood River Valley via Galena Summit, threatening
another of Idahos premier rivers, the Big Wood.
Inadequate bonding. After years of delay, in part because of conservationists
objections, TCM recently received the patents for 1,995 mill site claims,
paying just $5.00 an acre ($9,975) -- an outrageously low amount for public
land belonging to all Americans. Since TCM now owns all but 500 acres
of the land on which it mines, the public is largely shut out of being
kept informed of mine operations, its problems and plans. With patenting,
the Idaho Department of Lands has taken over from the Salmon-Challis National
Forest as the lead regulating agency. EPA with assistance from IDEQ continues
to oversee the NPDES permit for the mines water discharge points.
The mines bond stands at $19 million, an inadequate and absurdly
low amount considering the mines size and what will be required
for reclamation. Bonding does not include the cost of water quality treatment
plant(s) construction or high costs of water treatment should it be required.
Another non-bonded liability: the cost of producing rock and soil needed
for capping the tailings facility and waste rock dumps. Capping material
is to be generated from mine operations between now and closure. The cost:
estimated at $108 million. If Thompson Creek shuts down and fails to stock
pile the material, then the state must. Obviously, the $19 million dollar
bond does not cover this. IDL is currently negotiating with TCM to determine
how the capping material will be produced.
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1999 Thompson Creek finalized a new operating plan through a long, drawn
out process which conservationists dubbed the "Acid EIS" (Environmental
Impact Statement). The mine needed a new plan to prevent acid pollution of
the Salmon River. The mine’s original environmental review did not address
acid mine drainage as a potential threat. As a result, their plan did not
contain measures to contain or treat acid mine drainage.
acid problem was first identified in 1987 (see Fact Sheet #1). But only
in 1997, a decade later, did the Salmon-Challis National Forest release
a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). That document analyzed
options for containing acid mine drainage, and picked a preferred alternative.
Conservation groups worked for years trying to convince the Forest to
choose a plan that put keeping the Salmon River clean, first. Such a plan
would stop the mine from burying acid-generating material in the Bruno
Creek tailings facility. Boulder-White Clouds Council and other groups
advocated storing pyrite in a separate, lined facility, or hauled off-site
for disposal. Pyrite when mixed with air and water produces sulfuric acid
(see Fact Sheet #3 below).
the adopted plan continues to allow pyrite to be dumped into the Bruno
Creek tailings impoundment. While its true that as long as the pyrite
is under water or otherwise not exposed to air, it will not "go acid"
but many things can go wrong. Once acid mine drainage starts, its
extremely difficult and expensive to stop.
Mine Fact Sheets
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Fact Sheet #1. Thompson Creek Mine Watch
CHRONOLOGY: ACID MINE DRAINAGE AT THOMPSON CREEK
Recently the Forest Service released a draft revised operating plan for
Thompson Creek Mine (TCM) to address acid mine drainage (AMD). Agency
review of the mines acid indicators began over ten years ago. In
July 1989 the Forest Service recommended that the mine needed a Modified
Plan of Operation to address AMD problems. Nine years later, in June 1998,
a new draft AMD plan was finally released.
July 17, 1996 -- "There is no acid rock drainage at
Thompson Creek Mine." (F.S. Mooney, President, Thompson Creek Mine,
letter to State Senator Laird Noh.)
Now, the real story...
Aug. 1988 -- "Yellow tailings had been evident in the
lower paddock area of the embankment for at least five years." (Letter
from the Yankee Fork Ranger District (YFRD) to the Forest Supervisor.)
The YFRD asked Cyprus-Thompson Creek Mine if they were aware of the acid
potential/indicators. Cyprus replied "Yes, we are processing a sulfide
ore." Cyprus told the YFRD that two budgets had been prepared in
the past three years for "shutdown" mode and a water treatment
plant was included in each at a cost of $1 million dollars.
Sept. 21, 1988 -- "[I]t appears that the mine may be
developing some problems with acid mine drainage and acid soils. This
potential problem is showing up in the bottom of the pit in the form of
an acid pond of about an acre and on the face of the sand tailings dam.
The acid water in the pit is pumped to the tailings pond. There are substantial
areas of acid sands appearing on the dam face and acid water is seeping
into the seepage return pond ...these indications of acid conditions were
not evident a year ago." (E.R. Browning, Director, Minerals Area
Mgt, Region IV, Letter to Challis National Forest Supervisor, Sept. 21,
July 1989 -- After documenting acid mine drainage indicators
in mine pit waters, tailings impoundment embankment and toe, a Forest
Service Region IV report recommended that the Challis National Forest
ask Cyprus for a Modified Plan of Operation to address AMD.
-- Captions on Forest Service File Photos: In the pit, "brownish
pyrite crystals ... are evident throughout the pit area. Pyrite is an
acid producer. Snow and rain water and future pit water coming in contact
with the sulfides in the pit walls will likely be acidic", (Captions
- Photos 5 and 6). In the tailings dam "New material is continually
being placed over the lower (acidic) material causing the potential acid
producing material to be buried throughout the entire embankment (Photo
9). "Material that has been in place about 18 months is very yellow
and has a pH of 3.3 (Photo 12). [A pH of 3.0 will kill all aquatic life.]
"The spring water above the upper paddock that runs through tailings
had a pH of 3.5 (Photo 15). Forest Service File Photos, 1989.
-- "Considering both the sand and rock ... and water sample
results as well as the field indicators we saw last May, it[s] important
that Cyprus obtain a full characterization of the existing and future
potential acid mine drainage situation... On the assumption that this
mine is developing an acid mine drainage condition, there are still alternatives
for mitigation and control. But time is not on our side and if a full
blown AMD problem develops at this mine, there will be few alternatives
for control, if we can control it all." (Forest Service Region IV
letter to Challis NF Supervisor, Oct. 27, 1989, West-Wide Reclamation
April 1990 -- "We believe there is a serious emerging mine
drainage situation developing at Thompson Creek Mine. The mine location
directly above the Salmon River adds to our concern. Therefore, I recommend
that you immediately request a Modified Plan of Operations ... from Cyprus
Minerals Company... . " The Modified Plan ... should detail the means
of minimizing this unforeseen condition of acid and metal mine drainage.
(Region IV Minerals Area Mgt. Director, E. R. Browning, letter to Challis
NF Supervisor, April 19, 1990.)
Feb. 1994 -- "We have determined to proceed with a
Supplement to the 1980 EIS. The occurrence of acid rock drainage, and
the potential for the waste rock dumps to produce acid mine drainage was
determined to be beyond the effects disclosed in the 1980 EIS." (Feb.
19, 1995, Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement scoping letter from
the Salmon-Challis National Forest and Bureau of Land Management.)
May 1994 -- "Acid water pond below tailings dam"
(Photo 4 caption)."Looking into pit from dump access road, Note acid
water is being kept pumped out". (Photo 2, Idaho Dept. of Water Resources
(IDWR) Inspection Visit report, 5/25/94.)
July 1994 -- "Full blown acid rock drainage [ARD] exists
at this mine and it is misleading to discuss ARD in terms of potential;
it exists." (U.S. Forest Service West-Wide Reclamation Specialist,
Region IV, Ogden, in a letter to the Challis National Forest on the Thompson
Creek Environmental Assessment, July 5, 1994.)
Sept. 1995 -- "Yellowish colored tailings are acid
generating." (IDWR Photo, 9/20/95)
Feb. 19, 1998 -- "The SEIS came about as a consequence
of the observation by Thompson Creek Mining Co. that acid generation was
occurring locally in their tailings facility and one of their waste rock
dumps." ("Initial Review Comments on Documents Submitted in
Support of SEIS for Thompson Creek Mine, James I. Drever, PhD, Feb. 19,
For more information - Boulder-White Clouds Council, Box 6313, Ketchum,
Sheet #2. Thompson Creek Mine Watch
PAT HUGHES WASTE DUMP HEATS UP -- IS THERE A COVER-UP?
In June, the Forest Service released a draft plan to address acid mine
drainage at the Thompson Creek molybdenum mine. One site where acid must
be prevented and controlled is the Pat Hughes waste dump just four miles
from the Salmon River.
Pat Hughes Creek canyon is the mines current dump for waste rock
(overburden that is not processed through the mill to obtain ore). Pat
Hughes drainage flows into Thompson Creek, a tributary to the Salmon River.
Eventually Pat Hughes will hold over 269 million tons of waste rock.
1998 Forest Service draft plan states that approximately 106 million tons
of waste rock remains to be moved to the Pat Hughes and the mines
other dump in Buckskin Creek. Approximately 33.4 million tons of this
waste rock is classified as potentially acid generating. The plan relies
on limiting the amount of air and water available to the potentially acid
rock for perpetuity in order to prevent acid mine drainage from occurring.
The total amount of waste rock to be stored in Pat Hughes and Buckskin
dumps is 600 million tons.
Pat Hughes steams and melts snow -- Forest Service ignores.
Active steam vents of 70 degrees and hot spots which melted snow were
observed at the Pat Hughes dump in January 1996, an indication of a
chemical reaction taking place. This event has never been documented or
reported by the Forest Service. Nor by the mine. However, others were
"Pat Hughes dump is smoking or steaming. Showing high oxidation and
smell sulfur." (Idaho Department of Lands note, after attending Interagency
site visit at Thompson Creek on Jan. 18, 1996.)
appears that Thompson Creek Mine will have a major Acid Rock Drainage
(ARD) problem with the Pat Hughes waste dump...This assumption is based
on the observation of active steam vents (70 deg. F) and hot spots (melting
snow) on parts of the Pat Hughes dump. Steam vents and hot spots, on waste
dumps, are indicative of sulfide oxidation in waste material and if left
untreated will result in ARD. The Pat Hughes dump is composed mostly of
intrusive, sulfide-bearing waste rock (rock type with high potential for
ARD). (Idaho Dept. of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) Memo on 1/18/96 Interagency
Task Force Meeting at Thompson Creek Mine , Jan. 29, 1996)
"Temperature probes buried (10 bgs) in the Pat Hughes Waste
Rock Dump show elevated temperatures, indicating that the dump is starting
to go acid. (Ibid.)
"[The] site tour consisted of reviewing the Pat Hughes and Buckskin Waste
Rock Dumps ... it was very obvious that the sulfides contained in the Pat
Hughes and, to a lesser extent, the Buckskin dump are starting to oxidize
and give off heat in the form of steam vents and or hot spots on the sides
or tops of dumps." (Ibid.)
The Idaho Department of Lands Shows Concerns, Seeks Answers
in 1996 over the Pat Hughes dump, led the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL)
to ask Eugene Farmer, retired Forest Service minerals specialist and expert
in acid mine drainage to address the issue:
IDL Question: "What do you think is happening with Pat Hughes Dump
when snow is melting in patches on the surface of the dump and steam is
rising from these patches?
Farmers Reply: "A chemical reaction is taking place between
pyrite ore, FeO2 and H20. This reaction is a form of oxidation that generates
sulfuric acid, H2SO4. Heat in the magnitude of 200 degrees Fahrenheit
is generated from the reaction that melts snow and that adds more water
to the pyrite oxidation process. Mines in Europe that are 1700 years old
are still generating acid. Depending upon the availability of water and
percentage of sulfur, it would take three to five thousand years to completely
"The mine dumps at Cyprus Thompson Creek contain 30 to 40 percent
void spaces. This porosity allows for tremendous storage capacity and
it could take years before we would be able to evidence acid rock drainage
from beneath the dumps."
"As the surface of the ground warms, convection currents flow up
the canyons. The porosity of the dump allows air to float through the
dump fanning the oxidation process. It will be almost impossible to control
this process unless the dumps are designed to eliminate infiltration of
water and air by covering with impervious material."
IDLs Summary: "Mr. Farmer stated that the company should be
thinking in terms of water treatment facility or facilities. The cost
of water treatment facilities are dependent upon concentration of materials
to be treated and volume of water to be treated. His experience has been
that the capital investment for a single treatment plan could cost between
3-4 million dollars and 1 million dollars to operate annually." ("Cyprus
Thompson Creek Mine Status Report--Comments of Expert ARD Resource People",
Idaho Dept. of Lands, Boise, ID, Undated (1996 or 1997).
For information: Boulder-White Clouds Council, Box 6313, Ketchum, ID 83340
Sheet #3. Thompson Creek Mine Watch
ACID MINE DRAINAGE = THE PERPETUAL POLLUTION MACHINE
In June 1998 The Forest Service released a draft plan to address acid
mine drainage at the Thompson Creek Mine.
Acid mine drainage (AMD) occurs when mining activity exposes natural sulfides
in rock, usually iron pyrite, to air and water, and forms sulfuric acid.
This acid drainage can leach out metals from mine waste dumps, tailing
deposits, and from open pit or tunnel surfaces. Metals dissolved from
host rock may include aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, copper, iron, lead,
manganese, selenium, silver, zinc, and others, intensifying harmful impacts
as the acidic water enters surface and ground water.
rock drainage (ARD) is another term used to describe acid generation.
ARD occurs when there is natural exposure of sulfide rocks combining with
water and oxygen. ARD can be observed in non-mined areas as a yellow-orange
coloring or slime on rocks, vegetation or sediments. Whether caused by
mining or naturally, this visible form of acid generation, is called yellowboy.
Yellowboy is composed primarily of iron (or ferric) hydroxides and sulfates.
pH - The pH (hydrogen ion concentration) scale measures relative acidity
or alkalinity and runs from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral. Liquids with a
pH value below 7.0 are acidic; above 7.0 is alkaline. As water acidity
increases, so does its leaching ability. Nature may adjust for small
changes in acidity, and buffers in the soil may neutralize runoff. But AMD
may exceed natural buffers and carry dissolved heavy metals into surface
and ground water, lowering pH to levels, which cannot support life.
Acid mine drainage harms fish. Few fish can survive in water more acidic
than pH 4.0. A pH of 3.0 will kill all aquatic life. Optimum pH levels
for fish range between 6.5 and 8.7 or nearly neutral to slightly alkaline
(US EPA 1976). Toxic affects of low pH on fish include death, reduced
growth rate, reproductive failure, and skeletal deformities. Low pH also
causes elimination of sensitive species and proliferation of tolerant
species; reductions in density, biomass and diversity in aquatic systems;
and reproductive, emergence and rearing failure (R.L. Nelson et al, 1991).
mining does what once took centuries for nature to erode and expose sulfide-bearing
rock. Todays enormous mines like Thompson Creek have compressed
such exposure into a few years. Natural weathering could never duplicate
the tremendous scale of the Thompson Creek open pit (currently one-mile
long and over 600 feet deep), or its 450-acre tailings impoundment which
will hold 200 million tons of potential acid-generating material. The
mines two waste dumps will contain 600-million tons (3.5 million
truck loads) of discarded rock.
Acid Mine Drainage Indicators
While acidity or low pH is a measurement of AMD, it is not the sole indicator.
Clues to the onset of AMD may include elevated levels of iron, manganese,
sulfate and conductivity (an approximate measure of the amount of dissolved
solids in water). Increased levels over baseline may be precursors of
acid mine drainage development.
AMD may be prevented by keeping sulfide minerals from exposure to air
and/or water. Alkaline rock may buffer or neutralize potential acid-generating
rock. In large-scale mining, exposure of sulfide ore to air and water
is often impossible to avoid and water quality treatment facilities are
essential to prevent AMD from leaving the project site and entering surface
or ground water.
when sulfide rock is buried or covered to prevent exposure to air and
water, natural occurrences like erosion, slumping, storm events and earthquakes
can trigger AMD. If the pH falls below about 4.0, organisms naturally
occurring in the rock can greatly accelerate the sulfide decomposition
process, and AMD production.
Perpetual Pollution Machine
Pockets of AMD may brew within waste rock dumps or tailings piles, spreading
like a cancer, and contaminating an ever-increasing area. This is why
acid mine drainage is described as a "perpetual pollution machine"
which requires monitoring and caretaking for eternity.
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"A Review of Procedures for Surface Mining & Reclamation in Areas
with Acid-Producing Materials", J.G. Skousen et al, West Virginia
University, April 1987. p. 14.
"Acid Mine Drainage: The Perpetual Pollution Machine", BC Mining
Watch Fact Sheet #1, 1994, Environmental Mining Council of BC, Canada.
"Acid Mine Drainage: Minings Greatest Environmental Challenge",
brochure, East Kootenay Environmental Society, Kimberly, B.C., Canada.
"Burden of Gilt", Mineral Policy Center, Washington, D.C. June
1993, p. 13-17.
Influences of Forest and Rangeland Mgt on Salmonid Fishes and Their Habitats,
R. L. Nelson et al, American Fisheries Society 1991.
Environmental Protection Agency, 1976, Quality Criteria for water. US
EPA. Wash. D.C.
For more information: Boulder-White Clouds Council, Box 6313, Ketchum,
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AT THOMPSON CREEK MINE
March 12, 2000, the Idaho Falls Post Register ran a mining story by Candace
Burns which failed to address the serious, documented environmental problems
at Beartrack near Salmon, and the Thompson Creek molybdenum mine near
Clayton. In response to Burns article, Thompson Creek manager Kent
Watson wrote to the Recorder-Herald (March 23). We would like to respond
to his comments on Thompson Creek.
that lives near or cares about the Salmon River should be deeply concerned
over Thompson Creek Mines enormous 450-acre tailings dam. One of
the world largest tailings facilities, the dam embankment is over
700 feet high and the dam impoundment contains over 100 million tons of
mine tailings. If Thompson Creek, a Colorado company, mines out the ore
body, the impoundments volume will double in size over the next
dozen years. This structure sprawls across Bruno Creek, a tributary to
Squaw Creek, just five miles and 2,000 feet above the Salmon River.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Seattle has raised serious issues
over the tailings facility. In 1998 EPA gave the mines new operating
plan a failing grade, citing environmental objections. Now, because of
Burns article, Manager Watson attacks EPA for its "non-collaborative"
position with other regulating agencies.
August 1999, EPA reviewed geotechnical reports, which resulted in specific
concerns over stability, seismic hazard, and acid-generation from the
dam. In response, the Forest Service and Idaho Department of Water Quality
(IDWR) brushed aside EPA. IDWR response includes the statement that theres
no worry because every five years IDWR performs a "hazard assessment"
on the dam (IDWR letter on Oct. 13, 1999 to Tom Buchta, USFS, Ogden).
USFS and IDWR also tout that the Thompson Creek tailings dam withstood
the Mt Borah Earthquake back in 1983. They fail to mention that the mine
was new and the tailings dam was much smaller, only 165 feet high, not
700 feet like now.
commend EPAs courage to ask hard questions about the Thompson Creek
sand dam. We have lost count of the times that agencies other than EPA
have told us that their role is to let mining proceed, and that regulators
must go along and get along because these mines are economically important
[in the short term] to rural towns and to Idahos pro-mining politicians.
the mines sand dam, there are other concerns. Back in 1980, "experts"
said this project would never have acid mine drainage threatening the
Salmon River and its tributaries. They were wrong. The threat of acid
mine pollution was why the mine was forced into devising a new operating
plan, a process that took five years and still isnt final. (We have
a fact sheet available documenting the mines acid history.)
1996 at the Pat Hughes waste rock dump, there were active steam vents
of 70 degrees and hot spots melting snow which indicated chemical reactions
within the dump. Despite numerous requests and file inspection visits,
we have never found mention in Forest files of this serious situation
at the Pat Hughes waste dump. We also have available Pat Hughes smoking
dump fact sheet.
water quality problems are showing up at Pat Hughes. The Forest Service
reported 1999 water quality tests in Pat Hughes Creek, a Salmon River
tributary, which detected exceedances of zinc, cadmium, and suspended
solids plus low pH and elevated conductivity. The Forest Service also
offered excuses: a pipeline ruptured by an avalanche and breaches in the
pit dewatering line.
Creek is a mine, which will require monitoring and maintenance into perpetuity.
Forever. We and many others are greatly concerned about this gigantic
mine, Idahos largest, and what legacy it will bequeath to the Salmon
welcome calls and information about Thompson Creek and other mines. Thank
Boulder-White Clouds Council
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According to an April 10, 2003
article in the Challis Messenger by reporter Todd Adams, Thompson Creek
Mine has responded to higher moly prices and has begun to remove more
overburden from its open pit. In April moly was $5.00 a pound versus $3.00
on November 2002. An additional 50-60 workers have returned to the
project, joining a current 100 at the site. Adams quotes mine manager Kent
Watson as saying that this latest phase will allow Thompson Creek to
operate another two to five years. Watson said "mine life….depend(s) on
the economics of mining and market demand…."