HELENA — Golden Sunlight Mines plans to hire 26 people in January, after receiving approval from the state this week to remove and process ore from a new, smaller open-pit area.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has amended the Whitehall company's operating permit to allow construction of an open pit covering about 24 acres, with a maximum depth of about 300 feet.
The pit would be about 1,500 feet long and 700 feet wide.
Golden Sunlight plans to extract about 1.73 million tons of ore from what it's calling the East Area Pit, with 2.31 million tons of waste rock generated.
"It's a relatively shallow pit that's just north of the facility's area and east of the big Mineral Hill pit," said Herb Rolfes, the DEQ Operating Permit Section supervisor.
"They didn't plan on mining this, but when they did some sampling, they realized they could run it through the mill and make it economical, especially since gold is at about $1,350 per ounce."
Opening the new pit will allow Golden Sunlight to restart its mill, which was shuttered while the company focused on expanding the larger Mineral Hill open pit.
That work involves "laying back" part of the mine's high wall in order to go after deeper, richer ore and is expected to extend the life of the mine into 2015.
Tim Dimock, the mine's general manager, said they transferred the mill employees to the mine expansion when they shut down the mill, so no one was laid off. Mining the East Area Pit will allow them to restart the mill about seven months earlier than they would have with only the expansion of the Mineral Hill Pit.
He anticipates that some of the former mill workers might return to those jobs, but added that overall they need to hire 26 people.
Mining the East Area Pit also will keep about 20 employees of a private contractor busy, Dimock said.
Golden Sunlight employs 170 people, as well as about 60 contractors.
Along with adding employees, restarting the mill will allow Golden Sunlight to generate revenue for its parent company, international mining giant Barrick Gold Corp.
The company also expects the East Area Pit project will pay about $759,000 in local taxes and $528,000 in state taxes.