New partner joins copper search along Carlton-Aitkin county line
A proposed copper mine along the Aitkin-Carlton county line appears to have fresh legs with a new company buying into the project.
Talon said it also has a “potential pathway’’ to take over 100 percent of the project if Kennecott chooses not to develop the mine.
Talon will pay $7.5 million for the initial 30 percent stake in the Tamarack project and has agreed to spend another $30 million for additional exploration during the next three years.
Utah-based Kennecott has spent the past 14 years obtaining mineral rights and drilling test borings across the boggy terrain located about 45 miles west of Duluth, but the project had been on the back burner for several years with little or no activity.
It’s not clear what Talon’s entry will mean for the project, which is still in the exploratory stage, but additional test drilling is set to start later this month.
Officials with British Virgin Island-based Talon recently said some 124,700 feet, or 23.7 miles, of drill core samples from the area have been analyzed with geologists estimating more than 10 million tons of mineable ore below.
Talon officials say the copper and other valuable minerals are roughly 1,000 to 1,500 feet below the surface and that the mine “will be an underground mine, if it is able to get through Minnesota’s exacting permitting process,’’ according to London-based investment analysts Proactive Investments.
Talon announced it has nearly $12 million in cash and has paid its first $1 million installment to Kennecott as part of the three-year buy-in agreement.
Warren Newfield, Talon chairman, said his company had been looking worldwide for a new mining project to dig into.
“We are fortunate to participate in Kennecott’s Tamarack project,’’ Newfield said in a prepared statement announcing the deal. “Over the past two years, the Talon team has reviewed and considered more than 700 projects, and we have finally identified a project that could be a company maker. … We expect the next three years to be an exciting time for Talon.”
Proactive suggests the Tamarack project may face somewhat less hostility than other proposed Minnesota copper mine proposals, such as the Twin Metals underground mine proposed east of Ely.
“Tamarack is in an area where the watershed is towards the Mississippi and should not suffer so many environmental objections as (Twin Metals) where the ground drains into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness,’’ Proactive said.
Still, there was vocal opposition to the Tamarack project for nearly a decade. In 2006 Kennecott filed suit against Aitkin County officials who tried to limit exploration by denying a conditional use permit. Kennecott eventually prevailed in court.
Kennecott has obtained access rights to some 35,000 acres in the area. The proposed mine is not far from Big Sandy and Round lakes and is near Savanna Portage State Park, the Savanna State Forest and the Grayling Wildlife Management Area.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced last week that Kennecott has submitted a new exploration plan for land under which the state owns the mineral rights. All three sites are near Tamarack. The DNR said Kennecott proposes to drill 10 to 25 borings between July 28 and Dec. 31. The company also proposes to do geophysical surveys there.
Kennecott officials at their Tamarack office did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment on Monday. A Talon official also did not return a request for information.
Kennecott, a subsidiary of Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, has been searching for copper-nickel deposits in north-central Minnesota since 2000, especially in Aitkin, Carlton, Kanabec and Mille Lacs counties. They eventually honed-in on the Tamarack area along Highway 210. Tamarack has about 94 residents.
Kennecott has reported spending tens of millions on the Tamarack project to drill 196 test holes and conduct preliminary environmental and other studies on several mineral leases in Aitkin and Carlton counties on private-, county- and state-owned lands.
Kennecott has objected to a proposed route for an Enbridge Energy oil pipeline through the area that might be mined.
Talon is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and has a Toronto office. The company’s website says it is “focused on the exploration and development’’ of the Trairao iron project in Brazil. The company does not appear to have any other active mining operations.
The Tamarack project is one of about a half-dozen copper-nickel-platinum-precious metals projects proposed for Northeastern Minnesota. By far the best known and farthest along is the PolyMet open pit mine, planned near Hoyt Lakes, which is in the final stages of environmental review. The company hopes to receive permits to mine as early as next year.
The Twin Metals project is nearing a feasibility study and made news in recent weeks when global mining company Antofagasta announced it would not expand interest in the project, leaving partner Duluth Metals in charge of developing the mine.