In its assessment decision, released Friday, the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board (MVEIRB) stated that the project would not likely have significant impacts on the environment.
The board's recommendation has been forwarded to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development for his review.
Pending the minister's signature, the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation will proceed in its quest for permits and licences to begin construction, hopefully by June, according to Andrew Gamble, bridge project manager.
"We've got a few more hurdles to go but this (environmental assessment) is a major one. It took almost a year so we're glad it's done," Gamble said.
The Bridge Corporation - owned by the Fort Providence Dene and Metis - still has to finalize a few "little details" in its agreement with the territorial government, he added. As well, a tender package for the $55-$60 million bridge has to be developed.
The price of raw steel has risen substantially since the project was proposed but steel only accounts for approximately 20 per cent of the one-kilometre span's cost, so "we're not too concerned," Gamble said.
Of greater concern is the price enclosed in bids to construct the bridge, he explained.
"That's critical. If we believe it's $55 million and the best price we get is $75 million, then that's a problem. We won't know that until we tender," he said.
With an 18-month construction period planned, and a maximum of 80 jobs created at any one time, he said it's expected that the bridge will open to traffic before Christmas 2006.
Michael Vandell, president of the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation, said planning is under way for moving ground in spring, conditional on obtaining permits.
Contractors want the associated gravel and camps and catering work, he noted.
The Dene and Metis have also created a community benefits plan for the project, which will charge tolls on commercial traffic. Michael Nadli has succeeded Albert Lafferty as chief operating officer for the Bridge Corporation. Lafferty is returning to his former position as senior administrative officer for the Hamlet of Fort Providence.
* The bridge will consist of nine steel truss-concrete deck spans resting on eight concrete piers placed in the river.
* Under the main span will be a navigation channel wide enough to accommodate large tug barges.
* Associated bridge development activities include quarrying, access, work camps, in-river excavation and barging.
* The MVEIRB stated that concerns expressed over migratory birds, water quality, fish and fish habitat have been resolved through commitments made by the developer.
* The Dene and Metis of Fort Providence will own and operate the bridge for 35 years. It will then become a public asset under the GNWT.