Mackay’s Empire Copper Mine may reopen
Custer County Commissioners gave two leaders of Phoenix Global Mining (PGM) and Lost Rivers Economic Development’s executive director a warm welcome Monday as they announced plans to reopen Mackay’s historic Empire Copper Mine as an open pit mine by 2020.
A fast-track open pit mine tapping copper oxides could be in production by late 2019 or early 2020, Dennis Thomas, CEO of Phoenix, and Scott Anderson, president and CEO of Konnex Resources Inc., told the commissioners March 13. The open pit mine and mill would be a crushing and heap leach operation and its product would be copper cathodes, copper plates weighing about 200 pounds, which, since there’s no railroad from Mackay anymore, could be trucked to Salt Lake City. The open pit would have an estimated life of 10 years. Future underground mining for copper sulfates and other metals including gold, silver and tungsten is also planned if reserves and feasibility studies pan out.
Anderson, of Boise, is also general manager of the Empire Mine Project for Phoenix. Phoenix’s Empire Mine Project is Mackay, Idaho-based, with London financing.
When the project is up and running, Anderson plans to spend 70 percent of his time in Mackay. Thomas is based in London, and according to its web site, Phoenix is a private resource company registered in the British Virgin Islands.
Konnex is a special purpose company holding the Empire Mine’s patented land and leases. Konnex’s parent company is British-Columbia based ExGen Resources, which is traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Three geologists have been hired to work in Phoenix’s Mackay warehouse, Anderson said. They are Philip Van Angeren, Ryan McDermott, who has Mackay roots, and Graham Kelsey. Cores from previous drilling are stored in the Phoenix warehouse in Mackay’s Oscar Wornek Business Park.
Mackay locals are cautiously optimistic that the Empire Mine Project will result in a working copper mine, jobs and economic expansion, said Rod Michaelson, executive director of Lost Rivers Economic Development, which occupies space in the business park across from Phoenix.
Some are concerned the mine might hurt preservation efforts of Mackay’s Mine Hill history, Michaelson said, but Anderson and Thomas have assured him that Phoenix wants to enhance preservation and public Mine Hill tours.
Thomas told The Challis Messenger his company wants to be part of the community and its culture and plans future land exchanges to return historic mill sites to the Forest Service or BLM. The Forest Service is no longer interested in having liability for the head house for the ore tramway, he said, so Phoenix may trade for that wedge with plans to preserve the head house and keep it on the Mackay Mine Hill Tour.
“People are for the most part optimistic,” about having a working copper mine above Mackay again, Michaelson said, “but they realize it will take time to get people to work.” Meanwhile, Michaelson is seeing what can be done to increase housing availability in Mackay, which he says is short of rentals and real estate for sale.
Thomas is from an English town smaller than Mackay, he told the county commissioners, so he understands people in rural areas.
Phoenix’s presence in London, where he’s seeking financing, is limited to a post office box. There is no fancy office building (funds are going into the ground), and Phoenix principals are not taking salaries. “This operation is very lean and mean,” Thomas told The Messenger in an interview after his and Anderson’s meeting with the commissioners. “There are no salaries. We’re putting everything we have into it.”
Stakeholders in the project will not be limited to Phoenix shareholders, Thomas said, but will include the people of Mackay and Custer County.
“This is London money coming into Idaho,” Anderson said, “Putting America back to work,” Thomas added. Phoenix will look at hiring local miners first and won’t import workers unless they have to.
Thomas said he and Anderson and other Phoenix principals are mining engineers with a wealth of worldwide mining experience. Their bios appear on the Phoenix website.
Thomas arrived from London last week, and he and Anderson met with Governor Butch Otter and other Idaho officials in eight meet-and-greet sessions in Boise. They received “superb support” from state officials, Thomas said. Since Empire Copper Mine is mostly patented ground with 53 or 54 claims, that’s where Phoenix would start mining, and the state would regulate operations. The two Phoenix officials also met with representatives of the Idaho Department of Lands and Department of Environmental Quality.
The two met with the county commissioners in Challis Monday, picked up mining consultants in Boise, returned to Mackay on Tuesday and tried to show them the property, but they didn’t get far because much of Mine Hill is still snowed in, Anderson told The Messenger.
“This is exciting,” Commission Chairman Wayne Butts told Thomas and Anderson Monday.
“We’re excited,” Thomas said, adding that raising capital in London can be difficult, but London stockbrokers are changing their attitudes to the positive side in the wake of recovering copper prices and other factors that “have converged to make this an exciting project.”
London brokers like the open pit for mining copper oxides, and Phoenix mining engineers’ analysis of past core drillings shows exciting deposits of copper sulfides and other metals beneath. “I liken this to peeling an onion,” Thomas told the commissioners. You peel one layer and there’s something else underneath.”
Be aware that the Mackay public is used to riding their four-wheelers all over the property, and there will be some rumors and naysayers, Commissioner Steve Smith said. Smith said he hopes public Mine Hill tours will continue after the project is up and mining.
Winter sledding down Mine Hill roads might have to be banned after the mine reopens, Challis Commissioner Randy Corgatelli said.
It’s good Phoenix has Empire cores and drilling data on hand and doesn’t have to re-invent the wheel, Butts said, adding he did some of that exploratory drilling himself. Corgatelli said he shoveled concentrate there during his high school years.
“I wish you the best of luck. This is exciting,” Smith said.
Empire operated as an underground, high-grade copper, gold and silver mine between 1901 and 1947, according to Phoenix’s web site, and the company believes “world class” deposits of copper, gold and silver remain, with potential for tungsten at depth.
“Of the total ore system, probably less than 5 percent has been tested,” according to the Phoenix website, which quotes a statement by NH Maund, Arcturus Geoconsutant, from October of 2016.
There’s next to no overburden for the first, open pit phase of mining, Anderson told the commissioners.
Copper prices fell during the past five years to about $2 per pound, according to InvestmentMine, but have risen above $2.50 in the past year, and on March 13 the metal was trading at $2.63. Trends over the past 28 years show copper prices under $2 per pound starting in 1989 with a peak at nearly $4 per pound prior to the Great Recession, a fall to under $2 post-recession and a higher peak above $4 between 2009 and 2013.
Phoenix’s target date, for an Initial Public Offering (IPO) of approximately £4 million of stock on the London Stock Exchange is May 10.
Plans call for Phoenix to acquire 80 percent of Konnex Resources from parent company ExGen Resources that same day, Anderson told The Messenger. Phoenix already has operational control of Konnex with three out of five directors. ExGen would retain 20 percent interest in Phoenix and the Empire Mine Project until construction financing is obtained.
The IPO will raise initial financing (nearly $4.9 million) to be used for a pre-feasibility study, Anderson said. The majority of that will be put into the ground, since the study includes surveys, mapping, drilling, assay and metallurgical test work over the next 9-12 months.
If all goes well, Phoenix would go back to the stock market in another year to finance a definitive feasibility study, Anderson said, which in turn would be used to secure further financing for a mining plan and construction.