Hecla Mining Co. will add a second drilling crew to its Gold Hunter project next week, then a third in September to speed up development of the promising silver ore body.
The announcement of those plans by Hecla officials Wednesday boosts the hopes of unemployed miners in North Idaho.
If Gold Hunter turns out to be the rich, sizeable ore body that Hecla’s exploration suggests, it could mean dozens of new mining jobs for the depressed Silver Valley.
The Coeur d’Alene-based company will add between four and six miners to its Lucky Friday mine in Mullan, Idaho. One two-man crew continues to tunnel toward the Gold Hunter deposit, now about 6,700 feet away, said Vicki Veltkamp, Hecla spokeswoman.
When a third shift of two workers comes on the project Sept. 5, drilling will be extended from five to seven days a week, she said.
If all goes well, miners will reach the Gold Hunter deposit next summer, Veltkamp said.
Hecla will make a final decision on Gold Hunter once miners reach the deposit and evaluate the size and quality of the ore.
Hecla decided to aggressively pursue the Gold Hunter deposit so it can meet a goal of producing 8 million ounces of silver from its various mines by 1997. Gold Hunter will have to contribute to the company’s reserves to meet that goal.
If Hecla decides to fully develop Gold Hunter, the Lucky Friday mine could employ about 200 workers, up from about 150 now.
In order to make a profit with the Gold Hunter ore, Hecla will use the existing shaft and facilities at the Lucky Friday mine to bring the silver and lead to the surface. That would drop the overall cost of mining at the Lucky Friday, ensuring that it remains open as Hecla’s flagship silver mine.
The Gold Hunter mine was an historic silver producing mine that closed when miners thought they had run out of silver. The new ore body is about 5,000 feet underground, far deeper than the previous exploration efforts.
Gold Hunter would more than double Lucky Friday’s recent silver production of about 2 million ounces. The mine produced 1.3 million ounces in 1994, down from the 2.1 million ounces it produced in 1993. An August 1994 hoist accident curtailed the mine’s output last year.