FAIRBANKS - A management overhaul at International Tower Hill Mines has put Fairbanks-based Tom Irwin in charge of the global mining company.

Irwin, an experienced mining executive and former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, will become the company's president and chief executive officer on Jan. 1. Irwin has spent the past two years as an ITH vice president, overseeing its Livengood gold project.

The move comes amid significant changes at ITH, which is based in Vancouver, British Columbia. The company is reducing about 30 percent of its staff, including layoffs for three employees among the 13 positions in the Fairbanks office. Its board of directors is being cut from seven to three members.

Irwin said the overhaul is designed to conserve cash, advance discussions with other companies and continue environmental studies required for permitting.

He said the moves also underscore ITH's hopes for the Livengood prospect, located about 70 miles north of Fairbanks. Putting a Fairbanksan in charge of the company demonstrates its Alaska focus, he said. Former University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton also remains as one of three remaining ITH board members.

"This project is doable, and we're excited about it," he said.

The Livengood prospect is a potential blockbuster for ITH, with a projected take of more than 8 million ounces of gold if it is developed.

But its future became hazier last summer, when ITH released a feasibility report that determined the mine isn't viable at current gold prices. It targeted $1,500 per ounce as the break-even point for the mine, about $300 below this week's prices.

The mine has an initial price tag of about $2.8 billion, the report said.

Irwin said ITH remains bullish on the project, and believes that gold prices will rebound. The reorganization puts the company in a cash position to continue developing the project into 2015, he said.

He said the success of other large mines in the Interior — Fort Knox and Pogo gold mines, and the Usibelli coal mine — has made it easier to attract investment to Livengood.

"We believe in this project," Irwin said. "We'll do our part, we want the gold price to do its job and we'll move forward."

He also praised the team that will continue to work on the Livengood prospect, including Alaska General Manager Karl Hanneman.

Irwin will remain in Fairbanks. He said staying in Interior Alaska, where his daughters and grandchildren also live, was a precondition when he accepted the promotion. Former CEO Don Ewigleben will remain with ITH as a consultant and counsel.

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMbusiness.