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An employee unloads copper at a factory in Nantong, Jiangsu province, June 18, 2011.

China Daily/Reuters

The chief executive of one of Augusta Resource Corp.'s partners said he was surprised that the company had not yet found an alternative to HudBay Minerals Inc.'s hostile bid.

Augusta has been courting potential suitors since HudBay made an offer in early February to buy the company for its large Rosemont copper project in Arizona.

The $450-million all-stock proposal came at a critical time for Augusta. The Vancouver-based company has told shareholders it expects to receive permits no later than July, which would allow Augusta to start building Rosemont this year.

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"I am actually a bit surprised that no one else has stepped up to the project. But that's because of the permitting risk," said Randy Smallwood, the chief executive of Silver Wheaton Corp., which has agreed to help finance Rosemont's construction.

Augusta has said 11 parties have expressed interest in Rosemont, five of which have visited the mineral site located in a national forest in Arizona.

But now the timing of the final permits are up in the air after one of the U.S. federal agencies in charge of blessing the project said it needed more time to respond to public objections. So far, Augusta has said its guidance remains unchanged.

Mr. Smallwood described Rosemont as a "very very attractive" copper project. The deposit would be one of the largest copper mines in the United States when developed.

"Once the permits are received and ground is broken… it will be a potential opportunity for other companies. That's what happens when you have a good asset. Lots of people like good assets," he said in an interview.

Silver Wheaton will provide Augusta with cash payments totaling $230-million (U.S.) in return for Rosemont's future silver and gold production. But those payments will not kick in until Augusta gets the final permits, secures the rest of the financing for the $1.23-billion project and sticks a shovel in the ground.

"Once those are in place and they have a financing plan in place to provide the rest of their capital required to build the mine and start construction, then we are happy to provide funding," said Mr. Smallwood.

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Silver Wheaton makes money by buying streams of future gold and silver at a discount from companies and then turning around and selling the metal in the spot market, hopefully at a higher price. In return, Silver Wheaton provides companies with funding.

Silver Wheaton's business model has helped the company weather the downturn in gold and silver prices. Although its quarterly profits are lower than the previous year's, the company has not had to resort to severe cost-cutting measures like other gold miners.

Mr. Smallwood said his company still has about eight active acquisition files open and said it was hard to close deals because people were uncomfortable with the low precious metal prices. Gold is trading below $1,300 an ounce, a third less than the $1,900 reached in 2011.

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