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Bathurst project inches forward

Jack Danylchuk
Northern News Services
Friday, May 25, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - Yellowknife has nothing to fear from the Bathurst Inlet Road and Port, says the project manager for a $237 million proposal to service Arctic communities and mines by sea and an all-weather road from the North.

"This would supplement the winter road from Yellowknife and ease some of the pressure on the winter road," said Tony Keen of Nuna Logistics, a partner in the project with the Kitikmeot Corporation.

On Northern wish lists for more than 20 years, the port-road project has been sustained with $10 million in federal grants for project studies and is now undergoing environmental assessment by the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

Keen expects the permitting process to be complete in two years and that the first loads will be delivered from the port to the mines in 2012.

The project could handle as much as 160,000 tonnes of fuel and supplies a year for Northern mines, according to a study prepared in 2003 by its proponents.

Shipping costs per tonne would be 30 per cent less than the Tibbitt-Contwoyto ice road that last winter delivered 331,000 tonnes of fuel and supplies to the mines, the study said.

The port would be capable of handling 50,000-tonne vessels, and would be supplied by six to eight shipments a year by 25,000-tonne vessels sailing via Barrow Strait and Queen Maud Gulf.

According to the 2003 study, the 211 kilometre road from Bathurst Inlet to Contwoyto Lake would be open from mid-January to mid-April, about a month longer than the route from Yellowknife to the diamond mines.

The study said that 45 truck-tanker units would be needed to service the Diavik and Ekati mines. Priority for the anticipated $9 million in annual revenue would be given to Inuit businesses, including Inuit owner-operators, the study said.

However, Keen said that "a good portion of the trucks would still come from the south."

Keen predicts that the project would stimulate mineral exploration and mining development in the Kitikmeot region of the Slave Geologic Province and have a positive economic impact on Yellowknife.

The Northwest Territories government is promoting a $50 million extension of the Ingraham Trail which could add a month to the annual life of the winter road - an alternative favoured by RTL Robinson Enterprises Ltd.

"At this stage, the Bathurst project is highly speculative," said Cheryl Robinson, spokesperson for the Yellowknife company. "It may be an opportunity for us, but an extension of the Ingraham Trail would be more beneficial for the Northwest Territories."

Premier Joe Handley described the Bathurst project as "very expensive and risky for the environment."

The Canadian Arctic Resources Committee said the port and road pose a threat to the calving grounds of the Bathurst caribou herd and could cut heavily into the business the winter road to the mines generates in the Northwest Territories and Yellowknife.

"It's still a long way in the future," said Handley, who believes that an extension of the Ingraham Trail will likely come first, but will have to be financed by the mines.

"Until there is agreement on devolution and resource revenue sharing, the Ingraham Trail will remain a federal responsibility," Handley said.