Living large in Labrador

IOC isn’t the only mining operation in the area with expansion on the mind. Wabush Mines, in operation since 1965, produced 3.2 million tonnes of iron ore concentrate in 2011. If all goes according to plan, that will increase to 5 million tonnes over the next three to five years.

Joining the two long-standing mines, Alderon Iron Ore Corporation, also in Lab West, will come online in the next couple of years. According to its corporate website, in 2015 Alderon will start producing eight million tonnes a year at a grade of 65.5 per cent iron.

Just north of Labrador City and Wabush, Labrador Irons Mines extracted about 1.2 million tonnes of ore in 2011, the company’s debut (partial) season. That number should double in 2012, the first full year of operations. Nearby, Tata Steel Minerals Canada spent the summer of 2012 preparing the site for a processing plant, which should process about 5.5 million tonnes of ore, starting in 2013.

Further north again, along Labrador’s east coast, Vale Newfoundland and Labrador’s mine continues to thrive, with major increases in nickel, copper, and cobalt production in 2011.

“The biggest delays come and will come in trying to find skilled workers,” says McGrath. Provincial estimates suggest a shortage of 70,000 to 80,000 workers in Newfoundland and Labrador in the next decade.

“It’s no secret what oil and gas have given to this province,” says McGrath. “It’s also no secret that those are unrenewable resources … we have to prepare ourselves for when the oil is done.

“Labrador is a very strong component of the province’s future. We know the natural resources are there; now, what are the necessities to bring those resources to fruition?”

Solving the worker issue will be one key, he says, and ensuring industry has the power it needs to continue to surge forward is another.

Central preparations
Fresh from a trip to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the central hub of Labrador, McGrath is pleased to report a surge of energy in the area. Mineral exploration – much of it very promising – is ongoing on all sides. In fact, exploration expenditures are predicted at an all-time high of $173 million in Labrador for 2012; that’s $46 million more than last year, and about three times the figure for 2010.

“The central region of Labrador is preparing for a major influx of industry,” says McGrath. “You can feel the effects on the economy already; people are getting ready.”

Carol Best, a resident of Happy Valley-Goose Bay for nearly three decades, goes one step further: she feels “palpable excitement, as well as palpable trepidation-slash-fear.”

The reason for the excitement is obvious. “It’s just all around us,” says Best, the executive director of the Central Labrador Economic Development Board. “New businesses are coming and looking to get set up.”

Among the new businesses are a new aviation company, and a new helicopter company, as well as construction and other businesses ready to service industry, from parts to repairs. Foreign workers have already been recruited to come to Labrador and work service jobs.

Best says a sure sign of the times is that her two children, like everyone in the town, should not have to worry about employment: if they wish to stay in central Labrador, there is no question that they would be able to.

Amidst all the busyness, though, “there is trepidation, that we’re not ready, that there is no clear master plan.”

Certain issues are being dealt with, she notes, much of it in anticipation of the Lower Churchill project. Currently, a new business cannot count on Internet access, as the local bandwidth is too crowded. That should change by the end of 2012, when a new fibre-optic Internet system is scheduled to be complete – a $24 million project partially funded by Nalcor, the province’s energy corporation.

A new airport terminal in central Labrador is nearly complete. And, as the Trans-Labrador Highway is paved, transportation will be less of an issue.

A major question mark remains the Lower Churchill development, specifically, Muskrat Falls. The development of Muskrat Falls would provide not only an economic boost in and of itself, but it would also provide the electricity needed to change a healthy mineral find into a full-scale development.

“Muskrat Falls is very polarizing here,” admits Best. “But I do truly believe that for the mining exploration projects to move beyond the exploration stage, they need power. We have to have power for the uranium mines, for forestry secondary processing, for Voisey’s Bay. Everything needs power.”

This fall will bring further debate in the province’s House of Assembly, which should decide the fate of the multi-billion dollar project.

“They do call us the Big Land. The future is big. It could be big and bad – but it could also be big and very, very good.”

McGrath does not temper his enthusiasm in the same way. He’s seen the resilience of Labradorians through decades of great change; he says communities and industry are planning for long-term success.

He does, as well, have a message to the rest of Atlantic Canada:

“There is a shortage of skilled workers; there is also a shortage of entry-level workers in Labrador,” he says. “If you’re looking for a job, it’s a great place to live, Labrador can be your safe haven. “Labrador is the future. Labrador is where it’s happening.”

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Stephanie Porter
About Stephanie Porter

Stephanie Porter is a freelance writer and editor living in St. John’s. In 2003, she helped launch The Independent, a spirited weekly newspaper distributed across Newfoundland and Labrador, known for its investigative news and features. Stephanie was managing editor of the paper until its untimely demise in 2008. She has also worked as a reporter and writer for Downhome magazine, the Express (also now defunct), The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star, picking up Atlantic Journalism Awards for her feature and news writing. Stephanie is delighted to be a regular contributor to Atlantic Business Magazine. Photo Credit: Paul Daly.

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