SANTIAGO, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Chile's Chuquicamata underground copper mine is due to start operations in middle of this year, the state copper miner Codelco's chairman said on Wednesday.
"We hope that Chuquicamata's underground mine will start up by mid-year," said chairman Juan Benavides. "It is a fundamental step and milestone in this structural overhaul."
Codelco announced a $5.550 billion investment to convert Chuquicamata, its second-largest resource, from an open cast mine into an underground facility last year.
The plans for Chuquicamata form part of a 10-year, $39 billion overhaul of the state miner's key operations as it seeks to maintain production despite rapidly falling ore grades at its deposits. (Reporting by Aislinn Laing and Marion Giraldo Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)