HOUGHTON - Exploratory drilling will begin soon for a potential copper mining venture in Houghton and Keweenaw counties.
Highland Resources, Inc., based in Vancouver, Canada, announced a partnership with BRP LLC that gives them up to a 65 percent interest in BRP's properties. BRP is a joint venture between International Paper and Natural Resource Partners that manages more than 7 million acres previously held solely by IP.
As a condition of getting the mineral rights, Highland committed to a spending $11.5 million over three years for development and exploration on the land.
"We're looking at in three years, we'll be in a position to make a decision," said Highland CEO Robert Eadie. "As far as mining goes, that's quick."
Beyond naming the counties, Eadie would not specify where the land is located. However, he said, they had been looking in areas where mining had taken place before.
"In the past, it's been a very rich area, and profitable area for copper," he said.
Robert Grasseschi, who helped set up the partnership between Highland and BRP, said he had worked at Universal Ore Products with one of the principals of the group in the 1970s. One of the individuals was also involved in the Homestake project in the 1970s, which Grasseschi said involved the former Calumet & Hecla properties from the Calumet area to the tip of the Keweenaw.
Because it's still in the early stages, Eadie said, it's too early to say what the size of the mining area would be, or the lifespan of the mine.
Local environmental activist Gina Nicholas said the list of Homestake and IP lands would include lands in southern Keweenaw and northern Houghton counties.
"I think at this point it's exploratory, and I think they've got to demonstrate in the next two years what they're going to do," she said.
Whether the locations are feasible for mining will depend on factors such as the availability of power, the cost of extracting minerals, and to where the minerals would be transported. If the feasibility study is positive, Eadie said he would hope to be up and running within five years.