PANTUKAN, Compostela ValleyŚSt. Augustine Gold and Copper Ltd., a US-based mining company, said Monday it plans to hire small-scale miners operating inside the King-king copper-gold project in this town.

"We will try to absorb them in our workforce. We will need 1,700 workers for our operations, so we will hire them and relocate them to a safer place," said St. Augustine country manager and director for environmental permitting Clyde Gillespie.

Gillespie said about a thousand small scale miners were currently operating inside the company's mining tenement.

"We already have an agreement with Tesda [Technical Education and Skills Development Authority] and we will teach them how to run our processes. For the level of a small-scale miner, they are getting a huge amount but on a large-scale level, it is not significant. They are going after the high-grade gold," Gillespie said.

He said the company would also allow small-scale miners to dig ores for the company. St. Augustine will process the ores.

"Hopefully, a lot of them will like the idea because there are really a lot of small-scale miners found in our area," Gillespie said.

Meanwhile, Pantukan Mayor Roberto Yugo expressed confidence the $2-billion copper-gold project would bring a lot of benefits to his town.

"Once King-king starts commercial operations, we hope to see more roads and schools in our municipality. At present, we are dependent on the internal revenue allotment given by the national government," Yugo said.

"Enrollment is increasing every year, and we will really appreciate if we get support through more classrooms. We also hope that they will hire those small-scale miners in our municipality. We can't just let the small-scale mining operators go because they have families to feed. We are hoping to work out it out with them," Yugo said.

St. Augustine said it was hoping to start construction by 2015 and start commercial production by 2018, once all permits were obtained.

The King-king copper-gold project is located in Pantukan, Compostela Valley and is expected to recover 3.16 billion pounds of copper and 5.43 million ounces of gold over its 22-year mine life.