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Newfoundland and Labrador mines 'ramping up slowly' after COVID-19-induced shutdown

Operations at Voisey's Bay project in Labrador have been shut down for nearly three months because of the coronavirus pandemic, but N.L.'s natural resources minister says a "controlled" return to activity is underway. — Contributed
Operations at Voisey's Bay project in Labrador have been shut down for nearly three months because of the coronavirus pandemic, but N.L.'s natural resources minister says a "controlled" return to activity is underway. — Contributed
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Mining operations in Newfoundland and Newfoundland are “ramping up slowly” after three months of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady.

Coady was speaking Monday in a virtual media briefing to announce measures aimed mostly at helping the mineral exploration sector.

In remarks prefacing the announcement, Coady said the industry accounts for $4.3 billion a year in mineral shipments and nearly $49 million in exploration. Quarrying represents another $30 million. Overall, about 7,000 people in Newfoundland and Labrador are employed in the industry.

Many of those workers’ lives have been affected by the pandemic. Operations were suspended at Vale’s underground expansion project at Voisey's Bay in Labrador and Marathon Gold stopped the exploratory drilling program at its Valentine Gold project in central Newfoundland. In both instances, concerns about workers’ health—and at Vale, also that of Innu and Inuit communities in Labrador—were cited in the moves.

Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady. — YouTube screenshot
Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady. — YouTube screenshot

For some, the shutdowns led to moved-up scheduling of planned maintenance. That was the case with Marathon, which last month announced plans “for a resumption of field activities by this summer” at the Valentine site.

“Certainly, there has been some downturn in activity,” said Coady. At Vale, it has been running care and maintenance programs.

“The same thing with Tata (an iron ore operation on the Labrador-Quebec border). The same thing in central Newfoundland. (But) as the projects went into care and maintenance, a lot of employees were still functional within their own company, they weren’t just working on the project.

“For example, Vale continued to pay their employees over the last number of months and now, they’re starting to bring their employees back (to work). It’s ramping up slowly, controlled and following all the protocols of the public health requirements.”

Monday’s announcement came less than a week after the publication of “Voices on the Ground,” a report compiled by a half-dozen watchdog groups, including one based in Canada, that accuses the global mining industry of a failure to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in some remote locations, including sites in Ontario and Alberta.


"We don’t hear reports from our communities having concern about the mining industry in this province.” — Siobhan Coady


In a statement in response, the Mining Association of Canada said the report “maligned and mischaracterized" the industry’s response to the pandemic, particularly what it saw as a suggestion that some companies put money above health. Instead, the association offered the example of firms like Vale which continued to pay its workers after the shutdown.

Cody lauded the efforts of companies in Newfoundland and Labrador, saying they have “made every effort to protect workers,” and adding many donated personal protective equipment for use by health-care workers.

“Mines across the province are leading in this pandemic in complying with public health requirements as set out by the chief medical officer,” said Coady.

“They are addressing important environmental concerns and what I call community benefits.

“I can report to the people of the province that our mining industry is very stellar and work very hard with their communities and we don’t hear reports from our communities having concern about the mining industry in this province.”

Twitter: @telybrendan


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