Almaden Minerals (TSX: AMM) CEO Morgan Poliquin on the Hiring of Laurence Morris to Oversee the Ixtaca Project from Feasibility through to Production
Gerardo Del Real: This is Gerardo Del Real with Resource Stock Digest. Joining me today is President and CEO of Almaden Minerals (TSX: AMM)(NYSE: AAU), Mr. Morgan Poliquin. Morgan, how are you?
Morgan Poliquin: I'm excellent, thank you. And yourself? Thanks for having me on.
Gerardo Del Real: I'm doing well thank you for asking. I'm excited to have you on, Morgan. Big news out of Almaden, you just appointed Laurence Morris, Vice President of Projects and Operations, to oversee the development and the construction of the Ixtaca gold silver deposit. I'd love for you to introduce Mr. Morris for those that are not familiar with him because he has some very, very impressive credentials.
Morgan Poliquin: Thank you very much for the opportunity and I'm delighted to introduce him to our shareholders and interested parties this way. He has a long track record of successfully delivering projects both on the build side and in operations to successful cash flowing production. And his most recent appointment, he comes to us from First Quantum Minerals where he was responsible for taking this project from really an exploration site to an operating mine. It's a $5 billion build which is, far as I understand it, is more than the Panama Canal itself. It's a huge project that he's successfully delivered.
He's been doing this over 30 years and he's built a significant mine in Mexico, which is how we first heard about him years ago. He successfully built for Minefinders the Dolores gold silver deposit which is an open pit gold silver mine. It's located in a rugged part of Mexico. I know there were challenges there that were successfully overcome in no small part due to the leadership of Laurence and that people may know that Minefinders was bought for a nice chunk of change for Minefinders shareholders by Pan American Silver. Laurence has Mexico specific experience and of course a wealth of mine building experience. So I think for us, it's not something that we're signaling here, it's part of our natural progression towards creating value for shareholders and the human piece is the key to all of that.
Gerardo Del Real: Excellent. We talked a bit off the air about how this is really a relationship business. Obviously the relationship there with Minefinders and you being familiar with Mr. Morris is what kind of led to this. You mentioned off air and hopefully you don't mind me sharing that he was definitely your first pick. And so you have to be very satisfied. What does his appointment allow you to do? Obviously he's going to oversee a large part now of the development and construction side for the Ixtaca project, but I've always insisted that this is still a world class exploration project. Will there be a renewed focus on the exploration part of the Ixtaca property?
Morgan Poliquin: Thanks for letting me address that. It's a great question. We made this discovery, the discovery hole was drilled in 2010 and I think long-term precious metals shareholders will know that it's been a pretty challenging environment for most of the years subsequent and our focus had to be very, very discreet on ensuring that we didn't waste resources and added value in the most bottom line way we could. And that was taking the discovery through to resource through to various economic studies and engineering studies into the pre-feasibility study we produced in April last year. Some sacrifices needed to be made and of course this is a brand new discovery in an area that's never been drilled before and there's a large exploration opportunity that surrounds the deposit in the geologic permissive areas, alteration zones, etc., we've identified. But we haven't had the resources to do it all. And just last year we started to do some exploration drilling which we look forward to reporting on and our plans for this year shortly we believe.
This is an exciting exploration environment. It's a brand new discovery and while we have a nice deposit there, typically new discoveries are made where there's old discoveries, where there's existing deposits and mines. And we think that this area has this potential. It's just brand new. I think being able to as a team advance the project towards a production decision and ultimately building a deposit here, part of that approach is defining what could this be. What are the exploration upside opportunities and starting to realize them. So absolutely that's obviously, as people know or people may know, that's my bailiwick, that's my skillset specifically. I look forward to getting back to my knitting in that respect.
Gerardo Del Real: I'm looking forward to you getting back to it as well. So we can expect assays. I know you're also working on the pre-feasibility study. How are things coming along on that front?
Morgan Poliquin: Sorry to correct you there but feasibility study.
Gerardo Del Real: Feasibility study, my apologies.
Morgan Poliquin: Not at all. I'm still expecting that to be on track for the middle to latter part of this year. Studies are well under way. It involves detailed engineering and obviously many aspects of the project. It's a highly advanced pre-feasibility study from a technical point of view. There is some very minor additional field work to do but very little. A lot of the work that will go into the feasibility study is baked in the cake, as it were. Feasibility studies also involve a little bit of detailed engineering which carries on beyond the feasibility study into the construction, design strategy and mine planning aspects of a project. Essentially what goes into making sure that the execution of building a project is without error. That is ongoing as well and that's the kind of stuff that Laurence will immediately jump into.
Gerardo Del Real: Sounds like a busy and exciting 2018 and we have assays pending. I'm assuming that we'll have drills turning soon if they're not already turning and of course we have the feasibility study to look forward to in the second half. How does the treasury look as of the latest reporting period, Morgan?
Morgan Poliquin: Yeah, we will be reporting our year end. I think our view is we have the cash on hand to do the things that we need to do over the next 18 months, which are deliver the feasibility study and to get the project permitted. Obviously, we don't have the cash to build the deposit. We raised $17 million last year to go along with the cash we already had on hand. So we're in good shape and as I mentioned most of the technical spending is behind us. The fact of the matter is we don't have the money to build a deposit here but there are steps that are in between here and making a production decision that are absolutely necessary and we're taking those and have the cash in hand to do that.
Gerardo Del Real: I think you definitely have the cash in hand to do the exploration. Just to remind everybody, you own your own drills. Correct, Morgan?
Morgan Poliquin: That's quite right. We own our own diamond drills in our group. They're actually held by Almadex but Almaden has preferential treatment. It allows us to drill for roughly a third of market values. That's a unique situation. Our drills are also very flexible in terms of their capacity to move around. They're man portable if need be and have very, very low footprint from an environmental permitting and just simple logistics point of view. We can move them around very rapidly to precisely where we want. It's part of our team, our drilling group. It enables us to be very dynamic.
Gerardo Del Real: It also enables you to add a lot of potential catalysts between now and year end as far as drilling and the potential for new discoveries. I know you're excited to get back out there and get to drilling again. I'm looking forward to having you back on and reporting on that.
Morgan Poliquin: I look forward to that and hopefully that'll be very shortly, very soon. In the meantime, thanks for this opportunity. We really think that the market ought to take the appointment of Laurence in a very specific way. We're known as exploration people, we certainly have proven our capacity to find things, we think. We're very adept at development but building a mine is a very unique skillset and there's a small pool of excellent talent like this in the world. So we're very fortunate to have Laurence on board and what I hope our shareholders or listeners may draw from this is that we definitely have the capacity to take this all the way and realize value for shareholders. If that means building this project, we certainly have every intention of doing that.
There are other ways to realize value as we all know but you must be able to, if rubber hits the road, be able to take it all the way. I think the purchase of the Rock Creek plant is a significant de-risking aspect of this project. But again, people do things not plants. Somebody like Laurence is very unique. Hopefully your listeners take away from this news today that we definitely have the capacity to build Ixtaca.
Gerardo Del Real: Well said, Morgan. Thank you very much for your time and again, I'm looking forward to having you back on.
Morgan Poliquin: Thanks so much, appreciate it.