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Lancaster Co. gold mine to add 800 jobs

The Haile Gold Mine in rural Lancaster County is poised for a nearly $300 million expansion that will create 800 temporary and permanent jobs over the next two years, company officials said Thursday.

The mine, located about three miles north of Kershaw, hasn't been active since the early 1990s. But Canada-based Romarco Minerals bought it in 2007, confident that advancements in technology could help turn the mine into a gold producer again.

The company has confirmed that the mine and surrounding land contain at least 4 million ounces of gold, making it one of the more significant gold discoveries in the United States in the past decade, Romarco President and CEO Diane Garrett said.

Romarco expects the mine to produce at least 140,000 ounces per year for at least 12 years starting in 2012.

The expansion will create 500 jobs during construction and another 300 permanent jobs once the mine is fully operational, Garrett said.

"This will be the most significant employer since Springs shut down," she said. "We expect to be in this area for decades."

A feasibility study is ongoing and final permitting is still pending, but both are expected to be formalities.

Pending those outcomes, Garrett said, the 14-month construction process is expected to start by the end of the year.

Lancaster County gave Romarco a fee-in-lieu-tax agreement for the Haile project. County officials are hopeful of the possibilities, given the county's 17.1 percent jobless rate.

"It will be a big shot in the arm," said Keith Tunnel, Lancaster County's economic development director.

The hope is that the Haile operation will attract a variety of new businesses, not just companies to help the mine, Tunnel said. A new industrial park planned nearby will make an ideal landing spot for spin-off businesses, he said.

"If there are companies that want to service them and want to be nearby," Tunnel said, "we've got a home for them now."

Word of the planned 800 jobs has spread quickly through the county, and the Lancaster Workforce Center already has had a flood of inquiries, director Glenda Parkman said. The employment office has an exclusive hiring agreement with the company and is compiling a list of people interested in working there, Parkman said.

Some hiring has started already, but the bulk won't start until late this year or early in 2011, Parkman said.

"We've had thousands of responses. ... It's very exciting," she said. "It's going to offer a lot of opportunities for local people."

'A significant area'

Gold was first discovered at the Haile site in 1827 and was mined off and on for the rest of that century and into the early 1900s. The mine operated again from 1936 to 1942. But modern mining didn't begin there until the mid-1980s, when Haile became the first commercial-scale gold mine in South Carolina. The mine ceased gold operations in the early 1990s under then-owner Piedmont Mining Co.

Significant gold discovery in the United States has slowed since the 1980s. Romarco learned of the Haile site when it was mining in Nevada, Garrett said. Those mines weren't reaching the potential company officials had hoped, and Romarco's geologist recommended they investigate Haile because significant gold had been found there before and there likely was lots more yet undiscovered.

Romarco bought the land from Piedmont for around $3.5 million in cash and stocks and now owns around 4,000 acres in the area, with hopes of buying more.

The history of the region and improvements in mining technology have convinced Romarco officials they will find success in Lancaster County. The new technology allows gold to be extracted from dirt and rock, a technique that didn't exist until 1998. Also, Romarco can dig more than 1,200 feet underground. Previous drilling at the site was limited to around 300 feet.

"We're finding gold all the way down," Garrett said. "We know we're in quite a significant area."

The company expects to produce more than $120 million in gold each year once the mine is fully operational, Garrett said. The selling price of gold Thursday was around $1,169 per ounce.

Romarco already has 57 workers on site, plus 50 contractors. Most are local. The company plans to hire locally for the new jobs, too, starting with the construction phase. The permanent jobs will include truck driving, lab, drilling and engineering positions. And for every one job created by Romarco, another four or five will spring up in the community by attracting new stores, warehousing, laundry and other services, Garrett said.

The company already buys its fuel and other supplies from local vendors and will continue to do so, she said. The company believes in supporting its communities, Garrett said.

"We could save a few bucks by going to Costco, but we don't," Garrett said. "We can generate a lot of money, a lot of jobs for the community. We need to generate good will where we are."