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Full steam ahead

Tuesday, 12th April, 2011

RAMPING UP: Mine superintendent Pat Evers at the entrance of the Rasp Mine decline yesterday. RAMPING UP: Mine superintendent Pat Evers at the entrance of the Rasp Mine decline yesterday.

By Andrew Robertson

The largest of Toho Zinc's earthquake-damaged zinc smelters could be operational again as early as next month, according to CBH Resources, which is ramping up development at the Rasp Mine.

CBH's operations manager Visko Sulicich said yesterday Toho, the Japanese company that acquired CBH last year, was currently working to repair its smelters.

The smelters, including the company's main zinc smelter, were damaged by the 9-magnitude quake that struck off the northeast coast of the country last month.

Soon after the disaster, Mr Sulicich said Toho had reassured CBH that development of the Rasp Mine, which will supply material to the parent company's smelters, would proceed as normal.

"In a month or two they will be in a position to re-start the (main) smelter," Mr Sulicich said yesterday.

While there was never a "good time" for a disaster, Mr Sulicich conceded it was somewhat fortuitous for both companies that Rasp was still 12 months from production.

Meanwhile, work on the city's newest mine was set to "take off" from this week, Mr Sulicich said, referring to construction of the $70 million processing plant and other major infrastructure works.

West Australian-based company GR Engineering Services (GRES) won the contract to build the plant.

"The earth works really kick off in a big way this week; that's the start of all the construction works," he said.

"You'll see some big equipment happening down at the north end of the site as of today.

"There's more and more people coming on board (and) there's a number of local contractors that have been sub-contracted by GRES to come on board and do some of that work."

In parallel to that work the company has some major infrastructure projects to complete, including bringing in a power line from Kanandah road and constructing a rail siding down the north end of the site.

Then there are roads and all of the storm management works.

"We've got to contain all the water on site so there's a heap of drains and things that have to be built," Mr Sulicich said.

"There's probably a million and half dollars that we have in our budget to do all these works."

In a change from the original plan, tailings, the waste material left over after processing, will now go into one of the open cut pits on the lease.

"Instead of building a tailings facility (adjacent to Eyre Street) we're going into Blackwoods Pit with a tailings facility," Mr Sulicich said.

The company has also ordered a new changehouse for the around 180 operators and personnel who will work on site. It should be in place by the end of the month.

By then CBH hopes have the underground side of the project up and running.

"By the end of this month we should in a position where we've got all our equipment here, and we've got to get our underground workforce together which we haven't done yet," he said.

"We've got a lead time of about 10 months before the plant's ready to go (and) we have to have the ore in place to feed the plant.

"So from May you'll start to see the underground works take off."

Mr Sulicich said a host of big-ticket machinery, including 50 tonne dump trucks, face jumbos, loaders and production drills had been ordered.

The company will initially target the Western Mineralisation and some remnant pillars before heading deeper underground.

But even before mining can begin there is about six kilometres of underground development work that needs to be done.

Initial production is scheduled to begin once the processing plant is finished in April with full-scale production by July.

"We're talking about a practical completion about the middle of April next year, but before that we've got dry commissioning and wet commissioning and that's expected to start in about January," Mr Sulicich said.

"So it's a pretty aggressive construction phase."

He said CBH had been happy with the response from local contractors.

"We've had many people come up and say we'd like to get involved in this so ... the response from local contractors has been very encouraging."

Meanwhile GRES will float on the Australian Securities Exchange next week. The company wants to raise $30 million from the float by issuing shares at $1.00.

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