The former Woodlawn Mine near Tarago is almost a dim distant memory as renewed activity buzzes nearby.
These days the old underground mine access is buried thanks to millions of tonnes of Sydney’s putrescible waste dumped in the void since 2004 by operator, Veolia Environmental Services.
But over the way, a new kid on the block, Heron Resources is edging ever closer to opening up a new lead, copper and zinc mine. It will replace the one formerly operated by Denehurst Pty Ltd for 20 years until 1996.
After years of research and planning and more than a year of construction, the company expects to start production in late 2018/ early 2019.
“It’s more exciting getting to the shiny part of the project,” Heron’s managing director and CEO Wayne Taylor said.
On Wednesday, he hosted a delegation of bankers, broking house analysts, service providers and other stakeholders at the site. At this stage of the game it’s all about markets and “blue sky exploration.”
Construction on the $240 million project started in August, 2017. It is now 73 per cent complete. The work includes a $109 million processing plant on a 41-hectare site, a crushing plant, batching plant, flotation area, water treatment plant, explosive and fuel stores, amenities and more.
The company plans to process an average 1.2 million tonnes of ore annually, including underground and tailings resource. Mr Taylor said the processing plant, being constructed by Sedgman, would be completed in December.
In an average year, the mine would produce 40,000 tonnes of zinc concentrate, 10,000 tonnes of copper and 12,000 tonnes of lead concentrate.
Over the past six months, subcontractor Pybar Mining Services has been beavering away, crafting a an underground mine access. So far it has delved 30 metres down but by the end of the month will reach 120m. A feasibility study is banking on an ultimate 750 metre depth.
A high-grade base metal mineralisation, known as the G2 lens, is located at 120m and will provide the first product for processing.
Chief operating officer Andrew Lawrie described this as a priority.
Woodlawn’s 9.3 year extraction licence is based on reserves only, or the resource defined as economically viable to extract. Mr Taylor said the mine life did not take the G2 lens into account.
“It will extend its life as exploration goes on,” he said.
“...The in-mine potential is significant. It could go on 30 years if we get the right discovery.”
Investigations have also drawn on the expertise of a former Woodlawn metallurgist.
Outside Woodlawn, the company has 1000 square kilometres of land under exploration licences, including Currawang, Cullarin, Kangiara, Peelwood, Burra and Captains Flat projects.
Mr Taylor said the “old timers” chased copper mineralisation at Currawang and Peelwood but the current resource was unknown.
“We’d like to think we can define an economic ore deposit that will lead us down the path of an approval and consultation but we’re a long way off doing this,” he said.
For now, the focus is on Woodlawn. Although originally estimating 150 jobs to be created, now Heron says it may be 10 to 20 more. Some already on site are ex-Woodlawn workers, like general manager Brian Hearne. The company is talking to locals about work opportunities.
It is also sharing some resources with the neighbouring bioreactor. Both operators cooperate on water management, given their zero discharge status. Heron is also using a compost from Veolia’s mechanical and biological treatment plant to rehabilitate tailings dams.
“They have also been looking at renewable energy and we would gladly take their power but we would have to get the right licences in place,” he said.
Meantime, hopes are high in Tarago and district that the revived Woodlawn Mine will inject more growth.
Progress Association president Judy Alcock said the village was only just seeing the beginning.
“The last time Woodlawn operated, the town was booming so we’d expect an already thriving village to expand again,” she said.
Her real estate agency has rented five homes to mine workers while nearby Gilmour Inn at Lake Bathurst has temporary accommodation for employees.
She is taking the plunge herself, building four shops, including a cafe, antiques and collectables store and community cooperative for home produce, arts and craft on land diagonally opposite the Loaded Dog Hotel. Ms Alcock will call them ‘A Reason to Stop at Tarago.’ Work is expected to start before Christmas.
“This is perfect timing for Tarago with Heron’s mine and people streaming down the coast. We have a really active Progress Association and we’re in the middle of developing a village plan,” she said.
While Heron’s project would turbo-charge the economy, Ms Alcock believed there was firm evidence already of growth, with 45 residential blocks sold in the past 18 months.
She said the Progress Association was very proactive and was having input into development of the village plan. Given the growth, this would need to consider whether the town boundary should be redefined.
“I’m really positive for this area,” she said.
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