Western Nunavut gold miner deals with fallout from COVID-19 pandemic

“Exploration not logistically possible at this moment,” says TMAC

TMAC Resources Inc., whose Hope Bay gold mine complex is about 110 kilometres from Cambridge Bay, continues to face operational challenges on site and says it’s not able to carry on with its regular seasonal exploration program. (Photo courtesy of TMAC)

By Jane George

For more than a month, under new COVID-19 restrictions, TMAC Resources Inc. has managed to operate its Hope Bay gold mine complex with reduced staff and operations.

Now the junior mining company has obtained some temporary relief from meeting its 2020 Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. exploration requirements due to the challenges in fielding exploration crews this year.

“Under this agreement, we are required to explore on tenured Inuit owned lands a minimum amount per hectare per year. This is just not logistically possible at this moment,” Alex Buchan, TMAC’s vice-president for corporate social responsibility, told Nunatsiaq News.

The federal government is also expected to provide TMAC temporary relief from having to meet mineral claims and lease exploration work requirements on Crown land, mainly in the Elu Inlet area, east and north of Hope Bay, he said.

“We believe this relief will be announced shortly, and be extended to all Nunavut mineral explorers with Crown tenure,” Buchan said.

Meanwhile, operations continue at Hope Bay, but these remain reduced and the TMAC office in Cambridge Bay remains closed to the public.

The current focus for TMAC staff in Cambridge Bay is to assist about 60 temporarily laid-off Nunavut TMAC workers in accessing federal pandemic support programs.

TMAC sent back its Nunavut-based workers to their home communities about five weeks ago.

TMAC continues to follow its infectious disease control plan that calls for isolating southern workers from Nunavut communities, Buchan said.

To that end, the company also extended its work rotations to four weeks to reduce any possible contact between southern workers and Nunavummiut.

The first crew change after a four-week rotation took place this past Tuesday with a reduced staff of about 120, Buchan said.

“Prior to the pandemic, we had weekly crew changes at Hope Bay. This meant that every week only a portion of the staff would cross shift, while a portion remained at site to complete their rotation,” he said. “The result is a mix of people that have been on site for a while, with a fairly continual influx of workers coming in from home. ”

But the four-week, complete-changeover rotations mean that every month, at a specific date, all workers leave the mine site and, on the same day, their cross shifts come in, he said.

“There is therefore minimal interaction of personnel at site,” Buchan said. “This new crew rotation schedule is meant to reduce infection risk.”

Buchan said that no incidents requiring first aid took place last month at the mine site. “It appears that our smaller workforce has transitioned well from all the initial distractions and changes brought from the start of the pandemic,” he said.

Miners continue to process ore stockpiles at the surface of the Doris Mine with some limited underground work, mainly maintenance, he said.

“We continue to produce and sell gold. We continue to evaluate the future need to enter into care and maintenance,” he said.

TMAC said in March that if the risk of COVID-19 continued, the company would transition into temporary care and maintenance.

During any care and maintenance period, on-site personnel would be limited to the critical activities necessary to maintain the site until normal operations could resume, the company said.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, TMAC had launched a process that could see the company put itself up for sale. At that time the options also included a merger, a joint venture or alternative forms of long-term financing.

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