The Ravensthorpe nickel mine in Western Australia will be closed from next month, threatening hundreds of jobs.
Canadian mining company First Quantum Minerals has announced it will suspend operations at the mine in the state’s south-east that is losing money, which it blames on a persistently low nickel price.
The population of Ravensthorpe, located about 530km from Perth, is fewer than 700 with an overall shire population of 1340, and the mine is crucial to its existence.
The town was also hit by devastating floods earlier this year that forced the closure of the nearby Fitzgerald National Park, meaning the loss of tourist dollars.
Shire president Keith Dunlop said First Quantum Minerals’ decision was disappointing but not a total surprise, with the mine having been consistently downsized in recent years.
“We don’t know a lot about the future for the workers yet unfortunately,” he told ABC radio on Thursday.
“There’s a lot of contractors that will be impacted as well, there’s trucking companies, the Port of Esperance and those sorts of people will also be impacted.
“Locally, the schools will be impacted, local business will be impacted.”
The mine was built by BHP Billiton, which suspended operations in 2009 during the global financial crisis less than 12 months after it opened the $2.31 billion project, costing 1800 jobs.
It was then sold to First Quantum Minerals and reopened in 2011.
Current staff levels involved 250 employees and 200 contractors.
“This decision is disappointing to us. Ravensthorpe is an excellent operation with an outstanding workforce and supportive community, but the continuing depressed nickel market conditions over some years leaves us no option,” chief executive and chairman Philip Pascall said.
“Over the next few weeks we will work closely with our employees and key contractors to mitigate the impact and manage carefully the staged shutdown of operations.
“We will be offering assistance to employees in seeking further employment opportunities.”
The project mines nickel laterite, which is costly to produce and requires decent prices.
Operations are being suspended, not permanently shut, giving some hope of a restart if the price rebounds.
WA Mines Minister Bill Johnston said Premier Mark McGowan had spoken to the company to offer assistance to keep the mine open and save the jobs, but nothing could be done.