For the last two years, most of Rio Tinto's construction efforts have been focused on the Eagle Mine in Michigamme Township. Surface operations there are about 80 percent complete, and production is expected to begin next year.
Leading up to that, crews will be spending most of their time finishing the refurbishment of the Humboldt Mill. The site just off of M-95 is where ore will be processed into separate nickel and copper concentrates.
Clean-up and construction at this facility is 30 percent complete. Rio Tinto Community Advisor Dan Blondeau said his company has spent three million dollars cleaning up the Brownfield site, completely gutting the buildings that were abandoned in the mid-1990s.
"Now it's just putting all of that equipment back in, so that will be a bulk of the work," Blondeau said. "We spent roughly three million dollars and several years cleaning up the site from past mining waste, something that probably wouldn't have been done if we weren't here today."
The company is spending another $100 million bringing the mill back up to speed. Fifty to 75 construction workers are working at the site daily. That number will at least double during peak construction months.
Since October, the biggest improvement to the site is progress on the exploration office.
"That's where our core comes in, where we evaluate core samples," Blondeau said.
Work continues on the area that will actually separate the ore. Rock will be trucked from the mine, crushed, and dropped into bins. Those bins will be in the largest building currently on the site. The ore will come down into ball mills before moving on in the separation process. In the lower part of that building is where a series of floatation cells will be built.
"From there we float off the nickel and the copper, and after that process we'll have our separate nickel and copper concentrates," Blondeau said.
A building that is yet to be constructed will house the load out facility where ore will be placed in rail cars.
"The rail line here is still yet to be built," Blondeau said.
The new line will run through the middle of the mill site and stretch four miles to the existing line along US-41. It is unknown where the concentrate will end up, as negotiations are ongoing with potential customers.