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Zinc mine now under environmental assessment

Guy Quenneville
Northern News Services
Published Monday, April 19, 2010

NAHANNI BUTTE - The company developing the Prairie Creek zinc mine south of Nahanni Butte has submitted a key piece of regulatory paperwork that has essentially kick-started the project's environmental assessment by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board.

On Monday, March 26, Chris Reeves, operations manager for the Canadian Zinc Corporation, travelled to Yellowknife in person to deliver the company's developer's assessment report (DAR) on Prairie Creek - four volumes in all - to the review board.

Canadian Zinc, which has been exploring for lead, zinc, copper and silver at Prairie Creek since the early 1990s, is seeking to build a 220-person mine to last 20 years.

But the company requires a number of permits from the review board's sister agency, the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, before it can construct new infrastructure (including a water treatment plant and accommodations for 110 workers) and make necessary upgrades to existing buildings (including the power plant, waste treatment plant and mill).

First, the environmental review board must complete its environmental assessment - a process that's now poised to begin with the submission of the DAR.

As for how long the assessment will take, Alan Taylor, vice-president of exploration for the company, said a previous timeline issued by the environmental review board indicated it could be completed by the end of this year.

But nothing's a sure thing, especially given the numerous regulatory delays Prairie Creek has already faced, he added.

"That timetable has altered somewhat, so we'll see what comes out," he said.

Last year, Canadian Zinc announced it would halt any further on-site work at the mine - originally developed but ultimately shelved by Cadillac Explorations Ltd. in the early 1980s - and delay the completion of the project's pre-feasibility study. Taylor cited regulatory delays as the principal reason behind the decision.

However, Canadian Zinc will continue to rehabilitate the 170 km service road from the mine site to the Liard Highway.

"It hasn't been used for 30 years," Taylor said of the road, originally commissioned by Cadillac. "It's overgrown in a lot of places, so that would need to be trimmed down, and also a number of areas need some attention in terms of slope mitigation and replacements of washouts."

That process will require about a half dozen workers, including some from Nahanni Butte, said Taylor.

In addition, the company is mulling a diamond drill exploration program. The aim? Looking for a further extension of the main ore body to the north of the mine site. The company last drilled on site in 2007.

This year's drilling campaign will also target workers from the region.

"That's our preference," said Taylor, though adding that a final decision on the program will not be made for another month.

While refusing to comment on Prairie Creek's regulatory process, Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief Sam Gargan said any pre-production employment is positive news.

"It's good for the community to get some benefits ... It will be even a lot better for the community if they can discuss some benefits from the project itself," he said.

Talks on impact and benefit agreements between Canadian Zinc and the Tthenaago First Nation in Nahanni Butte and Liidlii Kue First Nation in Fort Simpson are ongoing, said Taylor.

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