Wall Street Journal reports Whitehall mine for sale; locals surprised at news

2014-07-03T13:17:00Z 2014-07-07T10:03:32Z Wall Street Journal reports Whitehall mine for sale; locals surprised at newsBy MIKE SMITH Montana Standard The Billings Gazette
July 03, 2014 1:17 pm  • 

BUTTE — An official with the Jefferson County Local Development Corp. said Thursday she is surprised about a media report saying Barrick Gold Corp. is looking to sell its Golden Sunlight Mine — Whitehall’s largest employer.

“We don’t know anything about it yet,” said JCLDC Manager Tara Mastel. “We haven’t heard and didn’t know about this.”

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday afternoon that Toronto-based gold-mining giant Barrick Gold has hired Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce to help sell the mine in Jefferson County.

The Journal, citing “people familiar with the matter,” said the move continues a two-year drive to shed noncore assets. The open pit mine is one of Barrick’s smallest properties and has a relatively short shelf life remaining.

A message seeking comment from Barrick Gold was not immediately returned Thursday. The Journal said Wednesday the company declined to comment.

Dan Banghart, general manager of the mine, said he did not know any additional details but said mine officials generally do not comment on company financial matters. Mark Thompson, the mine’s environmental supervisor, said the same.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality approved Golden Sunlight Mine’s operating permit in January that allowed the mine to operate for two more years.

It also allowed the addition of one new open pit – the North Area Pit – and expanded the existing Mineral Hill Pit, commonly known as the South Area pit. The plan included stronger water quality protections.

“We’re not getting twice as big,” Banghart said at the time. “Basically we get to do what we’re currently doing for two more years.”

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality said protecting water quality was essential to its permit decision.

Mastel said she did not know what to make of the report but hoped the JCLDC would learn more at its regular meeting with the company next Thursday.

“The thing that is interesting is they have put tons of money into some exploration, which they haven’t done a lot of that in the past,” she said. “They are investing back into mines.”

She said the mine has monthly meetings with community officials and is “just such an excellent neighbor.”

The mine is not only Whitehall’s biggest direct employer, it supports several businesses as well, Mastel said.

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