North Idaho

Lucky Friday Mine back in business

MULLAN, Idaho - Hecla Mining Company reported Tuesday that the Lucky Friday Mine, shut down since January 2012, has resumed operations and production.

Operations resumed at the mine on Feb. 14.

"Production levels are expected to ramp up during the first half of the year, and we expect to reach normal production levels by mid-year," said Hecla president and CEO Phil Baker. "For the full year 2013, silver production from Lucky Friday is projected at approximately two million ounces."

The mine was shut down last year when the federal government ordered cleanup and safety improvements to be made to the mine.

In 2011, two miners were killed while working at the mine. Larry Marek, 53, was killed in a collapse and Brandon Gray, 26, was killed when safety equipment fell. A rock burst also injured seven miners.

Following an inspection by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the mine was shut down for 40 days. MSHA said loose material in the mine could break free and trigger an avalanche inside the silver shaft. Lucky Friday tried to fix it, but when mine officials reassessed the mine, they said the modifications were not enough.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration ordered Lucky Friday Mine to close down until several safety regulations could be met. Hecla estimated the mine would be shut down for a year, leaving approximately 200 Silver Valley workers unemployed since January 2012.

Hecla: Lucky Friday Mine is back in operation

Hecla has hired 300 people and 90-percent of those workers put out of work with the mine's closure were hired back. All employees received safety and accident prevention training, designed to improve safe work practices.

Work crews have completed a bypass drift around the area impacted by a rock burst in December 2011, Hecla said. Ground support has also been upgraded for about 7 miles of underground workings.

"We believe the mine is in better condition today than in any time of its history," Baker said. "This is a mine that will be operating, we think, for decades to come."

Baker also said during the press conference he doesn't believe the company should've done anything differently in 2011.

"There's nothing we've done in 2011, that I would with the foresight that we had at the time, have done any differently," Baker said, adding that not a single manager has been fired since the incidents of 2011. 

The company doesn't have estimates of how much money the company lost, but Hecla officials said that if you calculate an average of 3 million ounces of silver mined a year, at $30 an ounce, that would equal $90 million in lost revenue while the mine was shut down. He also said the zinc and lead Hecla produces would bump that number up to roughly $135 million.