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Energy and Resources Yukon mine slows operations, announces layoffs as copper prices slump

Capstone Mining Corp.s Minto Mine is pictured in Minto, Yukon August 21, 2012.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Declining copper prices are forcing Yukon's only hard-rock mine to curtail operations and layoff dozens of workers, says a senior manager.

The Minto Mine, owned by Capstone Mining Corp., is located about 240 kilometres north of Whitehorse and is an open-pit and underground copper operation, producing gold-and-silver byproducts.

Mine manager Ron Light said Tuesday the company plans to stop underground mining at the end of March and will halt open-pit mining in August.

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He said about 40 contract miners who work underground and are employed by Dumas Mine Contracting will be affected.

If market conditions don't change by August, 76 jobs for employees who work in the open-pit mine for Pelly Construction would be reduced significantly, he said.

"People are looking at the positive things we can do to reduce costs and keep our head above water," said Light. "Everybody is doing what they can to get through this survival mode."

Light said the company plans to stockpile ore to keep the mill operating until April, 2017, then implement a temporary closure to wait for the price of copper to rebound.

If the price of copper is right, there is enough ore left to keep mining into 2022, he said.

Light said he believes copper must return to a price of $2.20 (U.S.) or $2.30 per pound before Capstone reconsiders its current strategy.

Copper was selling Tuesday for $1.97 per pound.

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In its 2016 operating plan announced Monday, Capstone estimates its cost of producing one pound of copper at the Minto Mine is between $1.90 and $2.

Over the past five years, the price of copper has fallen steadily from a high of $4.60 a pound in January, 2011.

The company's website said 282 people, including contract employees, work at the mine.

The Minto Mine is the only producing hard rock mine in the Yukon.

The Wolverine Mine, 282 kilometres northeast of Whitehorse, suspended operations a year ago and is currently in a care and maintenance mode.

Alexco Resource Corp. put its Bellekeno mine, also in Yukon, into care and maintenance in the fall of 2013 amid slumping silver prices.

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