The St. Lawrence fluorspar mine. — Transcontinental Media file photo
Premier Kathy Dunderdale announced a $17-million loan Thursday for the St. Lawrence fluorspar mine, which is set to reopen.
Dunderdale called it a “repayable contribution,” but the terms of the loan are yet to be worked out. The money is for a deep-water port facility to aid export of the fluorspar.
Dunderdale and several members of her cabinet, who had been in Marystown for a retreat, were in St. Lawrence for the mine’s ribbon cutting, which actually took place in the town’s recreation centre. The podium was festooned with a banner that read, “A new beginning for the St. Lawrence mines.”
Canada Fluorspar Inc. passed out blue and white ballcaps, laid out trays of seafood, sandwiches and other snacks, then opened the bar, telling a crowd of about 150 the drinks were on the company, which has joined forces with Arkema Inc., a French company backing the mine with an $83-million investment.
The mine’s new operators are promising the community 370 full-time construction jobs over the next two years. Once Canada Fluorspar begins production, employment is supposed to hit 160 full-time positions during the 15-year life of the mine — an economic boost Dunderdale pegged at $380 million once spinoffs are factored in.
St. Lawrence Mayor Wayde Rowsell called the announcement “a bridge to our greatest tomorrow.” There were lots of smiles in the room despite the mine’s infamous past. The mine shut down in 1979, due to growing competition and higher-than-normal rates of lung cancer and silicosis, a respiratory disease.
Dunderdale acknowledged the heavy price paid in earlier years with workers’ lives and health, but said the redevelopment is “a tremendous day” for the community after decades of inactivity.
In his remarks, Canada Fluorspar president and CEO Lindsay Gorrill promised that health and safety and the environment will be a priority when the mine swings into operation.
Also representing the operators were Richard Carl, executive chairman of Canada Fluorspar, and Bernard Roche from Arkema Inc.
“Today is the culmination of years of effort on both our parts and it is very gratifying for the company, its stakeholders and employees and the Town of St. Lawrence as we step forward together to make this project a reality, Carl said.
“Arkema is proud to be a part of this partnership with Canada Fluorspar, the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the people of St. Lawrence for the new fluorspar project that will contribute to the growth of the local and regional economy,” Roche said.
After the ceremony, several people mused many of the crowd were from surrounding communities, not St. Lawrence itself.
But even those who were strong critics of the mine are counting on a new safety culture that goes hand-in-hand with prosperity.
Leo Slaney, who worked in the mine for several years and was a union leader in the 1960s, said he accused former operators, ALCAN, of using the miners as “guinea pigs.”
But he said with modern ventillation technology and vigilant monitoring, he expects it can be safe.
“It will depend on the will of the CEO,” he told The Telegram, gesturing towards the officials.
“Mining by its nature is dangerous.”
Lena Beck Grandy lost her father Tom in 1957 when he was 46. He died after developing silicosis.
The tragedy didn’t stop her turning out Thursday.
“I got confidence now,” she said.
“It’s wonderful for the area,” said Kevin Pike, who started working at age 12 as a messenger in his spare time for one of the town’s two mines and eventually worked himself up to storekeeper at the other.
Another former union president, George Doyle, said people know what it was like in the past and are now willing to hope for the best.
According to the province, about 5.6 million tonnes of fluorspar are consumed around the world annually, representing a market value of approximately US$2 billion. Fluorspar is used primarily by the chemical industry for refrigerants, foam products, as well as in the manufacturing of aluminum, Teflon, petroleum refinement, glass, medicine and agriculture.