Four Northwest Territories projects reach regulatory milestones
by Greg Klein
It might be called a blip, a surge, a spike or a spurt but it more likely resulted from long periods of painstaking work. Just recently four Northwest Territories projects moved closer to development thanks to regulatory advancements. Fortune Minerals TSX:FT, De Beers Canada/Mountain Province Diamonds TSX:MPV, Avalon Rare Metals TSX:AVL and Canadian Zinc Corp TSX:CZN all reported significant progress over a three-week period.
On July 19 Fortune announced its proposed NICO gold-cobalt-bismuth-copper mine and mill received federal, territorial and native approval. By accepting the positive environmental assessment released by the Mackenzie Valley Review Board in January, three levels of government have allowed NICO to move towards water licensing, as well as land use and construction permitting. Given further approvals, not to mention financing, Fortune hopes to start construction next year on an open pit/underground operation 160 kilometres north of Yellowknife that could last nearly 20 years.
Also recommended for approval by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board was Gahcho Kué, described by its proponents as “the world’s largest and richest new diamond mine development.” Located 280 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, it’s a 51%/49% joint venture of De Beers Canada and Mountain Province. The board’s recommendation, however, comes with conditions to prevent potentially adverse environmental effects. The federal minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development makes the final decision. In a statement accompanying the JV’s July 22 news release, De Beers COO Glen Koropchuk said his company’s reviewing the measures and follow-up programs recommended by the board. “We look forward to proceeding to the next stages in the regulatory approval process,” he added.
One week later Avalon announced it too received the MVEIRB’s recommendation, again subject to certain conditions “to mitigate the predicted impacts so that they are no longer significant.” In April the company’s Nechalacho rare earth elements project, about 100 kilometres southeast of Yellowknife, achieved the “first feasibility-level study to be completed on a major heavy rare earth project outside of China,” the company stated. Avalon maintained its resources might support 90 years of production “if the mining rate is unchanged and mineral resources are converted to mineral reserves at the same conversion rate experienced” in the feasibility. Applications for a water licence and land use permits continue, as do “efforts to finalize its aboriginal agreements, secure product off-take agreements, identify strategic partners and secure project financing.”
On July 8 Canadian Zinc announced the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board had recommended approval of a Type A water licence, “the key regulatory permit needed for the construction, development and operation” of its Prairie Creek zinc-lead-silver mine. Located about 500 kilometres west of Yellowknife, the project has been surrounded by the Nahanni National Park Reserve since the park’s six-fold expansion in 2009. Prairie Creek received environmental approval in June 2012. Already in place are a 1,000-tonne-per-day mill, five kilometres of underground workings, a surface fleet and an airstrip.
The four announcements were welcomed by the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines. In a July 27 statement chamber president and De Beers director of external and corporate affairs Cathie Bolstad said, “While the minerals industry is currently facing significant financial and commodity price challenges globally, the continued advancement of these and other significant northern projects helps invite investment to the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. This will help sustain and grow our industry, which is a significant provider of economic opportunities and benefits to northern residents and Canada.”
Effective April 2014, responsibility for NWT onshore resource development will shift from the federal to the territorial government. Public land ownership will also be transferred, while resource royalties will be shared. At last count the territory’s population stood at 43,407.