There is gold in them hills … or iron, copper, nickel or rare earth minerals.
Major mining projects can equal hundreds of millions of dollars of investment, yet, quite often, they still begin with an individual or small team trekking through the backwoods or flying from position to position along a planned route, collecting samples.
Now, the individuals and teams doing the early research and staking their claims will have the opportunity to join a professional organization all their own.
Norm Mercer is co-ordinating a series of organizational meetings aimed at getting the new mining-related group — the Newfoundland and Labrador Prospectors Association — up and running.
The first organizational meeting is today at 7 p.m. at the Holiday Inn in St. John’s. More meetings are being scheduled throughout the province, Mercer told The Telegram this week. Dates and times will be rolled out as they are finalized.
“Basically the focus of this Newfoundland and Labrador Prospectors Association is to create a strong voice and a strong network for all the various local prospectors who are scattered, far flung, across our vast province,” he said.
Mercer said he has no problem with the ground being covered by Mining Industry NL (www.miningnl.com) — currently offering representation for prospectors at national and international industry events, providing conference travel subsidies and specifically offering a contract employee to help prospectors in their work.
Even so, he said, building an association specifically for prospectors will be of value in the province. As part of the steering committee, Mercer said, he sees the association as a contact point for government and a collective voice for prospectors separate from other industry interests.
“The province right now has very supportive prospector training, prospector grants programs and so on, but there’s always areas to improve, there’s always areas to expand,” he said.
The provincial Department of Natural Resources offers an online system for minerals claim staking, and more geoscience data is being made available online all the time. There is the Matty Mitchell Prospectors Resource Room to support prospecting work.
“This association could assist in support in terms of providing further training opportunities, if we wanted to run field trips, if we wanted to bring in speakers,” Mercer said. “It would provide an opportunity for prospectors to come together collectively, to have a stronger voice, a stronger network.”
Gerry O’Connell, executive director of Mining Industry NL, indicated no immediate issues with the idea of a new association. He said he is watching to see what comes of the organizational meetings.
“The thing isn’t really set up yet,” O’Connell said. “We have to see what it looks like.”
He confirmed Mining Industry NL would continue to offer representation for prospectors regardless of what comes.
Meanwhile, both O’Connell and Mercer were asked if there is still opportunity for an individual or small group to head out and make a big find in this province.
Mercer said the current state of affairs is a new world of opportunity, when you look back and compare it to the Smallwood years through the 1970s.
“When we look in the early 1970s, probably the better part of 95 per cent of our lands, our mineral rights, were vested in the hands of a small number of companies under concessions and over the next 10-15 years that’s completely reversed, such that 95 per cent plus of our mineral rights are invested now in the Crown, in the government and many of these areas are available for staking,” he said.
He noted a provincial prospector training program began in the late 1980s.
“People from all walks of life could take part,” he said. “Probably about 20 people per year … teachers, lawyers, tradespeople, fisherpeople, labourers. A whole range of people who had an interest in the out of doors, who had a curiosity and a passion for seeking minerals, and a sense of adventure and felt the lure of discovery, got involved in these types of programs each year.”
With continued grants and more information available every day, he said, it is possible for anyone to work their way to success.
Both Mercer and O’Connell made note of the discovery at Voisey’s Bay in 1993 by prospectors Albert Chislett and Chris Verbinski.
“That’s not that long ago,” O’Connell said.