Once the mainstay of the Upper Peninsula's (UP) economy, copper mining essentially died out in the 1960s. But now a small resurgence is under way.
Great Lakes Minerals of Toronto plans to begin copper mining this year at a site northeast of Houghton/Hancock on the Keweenaw Peninsula. When the operation is in full swing, up to 40 people may be employed at the site, which is anticipated to produce about 20 million pounds of copper per year during the mine's estimated five- to six-year life span.
Great Lakes anticipates an annual payroll of about $1.5 million and a trucking contract of about $1.2 million to haul the ore for processing. Between 300 and 500 tons of ore is expected to be shipped from the mine daily, likely to the White Pine Mine about 85 miles from the site.
While copper prices have declined since 1989, they recently have settled at $1 to $1.05 per pound. Nick Tintor, Great Lakes president, says as long as copper remains at around $1 per pound, copper mining will be profitable.
But the revived interest in copper mining doesn't mean the industry will be the economic force it once was. Phil Musser, manager of the Bureau of Industrial Development at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, says, "Operations will be smaller and leaner, with definite markets." He adds, however, that it still can be an important component of the region's economy.
Great Lakes maintains exploration rights on four other sites, three in Keweenaw County and one in Houghton County. These sites require further exploration work before their profitability can be determined, according to Tintor. "But there is a high probability of developing those deposits."
In addition to exploring four potential copper sites in the UP, Great Lakes has formed a partnership with Noranda Exploration Co., also of Toronto, to scout 42,000 acres on the Keweenaw Peninsula for other copper mining sites.