Tuesday 19th November 2019

Resource Clips


Paved with promises

The North’s infrastructure needs get some attention from campaigning politicians

by Greg Klein

This is the first of a two-part series. See Part 2.

Could this be the time when decision-makers finally get serious about Northern infrastructure? With one territorial election just concluded and a deficit-budget-friendly incumbent federal party campaigning for re-election, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut might have reason to expect definitive action demonstrated by men, women and machinery at work. But while some projects show real progress, much of Canada’s Northern potential remains bogged down in talk and studies.

The North’s infrastructure deficit gets some attention from campaigning politicians

That’s despite some $700 million allocated to the North in Ottawa’s pre-election budget and months of Liberal spending promises since then. Not all that money was intended for infrastructure, however, and even some of the projects labelled that way turn out to be social or cultural programs. Not necessarily new money either, much of it comes out of Ottawa’s $2-billion National Trade Corridors Fund, now two years into an 11-year program that promised up to $400 million for transportation infrastructure in the three territories by 2028.

Yukon, once again home to active mining, has $157 million planned to upgrade the North Klondike Highway from Carmacks up to the mineral-rich White Gold region, where the Dempster Highway branches off towards Inuvik.

The Klondike section slated for upgrades has connections to a new mine and a soon-to-be revived operation. Highway #11 turns east from the Klondike, meeting with a 90-kilometre year-round service road to Victoria Gold’s (TSXV:VIT) recently opened Eagle operation.

The Minto copper-silver-gold mine that Pembridge Resources plans to restart in Q4 has a 20-kilometre access road with seasonal barge service or ice bridge crossing the Yukon River to the Klondike Highway at Minto Landing. From there, the company will ship concentrate to the Alaska Panhandle deep water port of Skagway.

The North’s infrastructure deficit gets some attention from campaigning politicians

With no deep water facilities of its own, Yukon connects
with the Alaskan port of Skagway and, pictured above,
the B.C. port of Stewart. (Photo: Stewart Bulk Terminals)

Intended to increase safety and capacity while addressing permafrost thaw, the North Klondike Highway project gets $118 million from Ottawa and $29 million from the territory. The money will be spent over seven years beginning in 2020.

A July feasibility report for BMC Minerals’ Kudz Ze Kayah polymetallic copper mine foresees concentrate shipment along a 24-kilometre access road to southern Yukon’s Highway #4, part of a 905-kilometre journey to Stewart, British Columbia, the continent’s most northerly ice-free port.

Another project approaching development but more distant from highways, Newmont Goldcorp’s (TSX:NGT) proposed Coffee gold mine calls for a 214-kilometre all-season road north to Dawson City. But with upgrades to an existing service road, the route would require only 37 kilometres of new construction.

In the NWT, work began last month on the Tlicho all-season road to connect the hamlet of Whati with Yellowknife, 97 kilometres southeast. Expected to finish by fall 2022, the $200-million P3 project would replace an existing ice road, giving communities year-round access to the highway system and encouraging resource exploration and development.

[The Tlicho road], which includes Indigenous participation from the Tlicho Government, is great news for our industry and a positive step forward in addressing the infrastructure deficit in the Northwest Territories.—Gary Vivian, NWT and Nunavut
Chamber of Mines president

About 50 kilometres north of Whati, Fortune Minerals’ (TSX:FT) NICO cobalt-gold-bismuth-copper project undergoes studies for a scaled-down feasibility update in light of lower cobalt and bismuth prices. Fortune has already received environmental approval for a spur road to Whati, part of a plan to truck NICO material to Hay River where the territories’ only rail line (other than short tourist excursions in southern Yukon) connects with southern Canada.

A much more ambitious priority of the NWT’s last legislative assembly was supposed to have been the Mackenzie Valley Highway, a Diefenbaker-era dream that would link the territory’s south with the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean. The subject of numerous studies, proposals and piecemeal construction for about 60 years, the proposal has received more than $145 million in taxpayers’ money since 2000.

A 149-kilometre stretch from Inuvik to Tuk opened in 2017, linking the ocean with the Dempster route to the Yukon. Now underway are studies for a 321-kilometre route between Wrigley and Norman Wells, where further driving would depend on an ice road. Assuming receipt of environmental approvals, native agreements and an estimated $700 million, the NWT’s last assembly hoped construction on the Wrigley-to-Wells portion would begin in September 2024.

Far more ambitious proposals for the NWT and Nunavut took initial steps forward with funding announcements made just prior to the federal election campaign’s official start. Part 2 of this series discusses the Slave Geological Province Corridor and Grays Bay Road and Port projects.


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