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Tlicho want mine assessment suspended

Guy Quenneville
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 14, 2010

WHATI/LAC LA MARTRE - The Tlicho government is requesting a halt to the permitting process for a proposed mine near Whati, a move that could delay the start of development for the 150-person mine.

NNSL photo/graphic

A drill sits on Fortune Minerals NICO gold-cobalt-bismuth property, located 50 km north of Whati. The Tlicho government has asked that the environmental assessment for the project be halted. - NNSL file photo

NICO by the numbers
  • Commodities: gold, cobalt, bismuth
  • Location: 50 km north of Whati
  • Reserves: 31 million tonnes including 907,000 ounces of gold, 82 million pounds of cobalt and 109 million pounds of bismuth.
  • Potential mine life: 15 to 18 years
  • Projected cost: approximately $250 million
  • Projected mine production jobs: 150
  • Fortune Minerals share price as of June 10: $0.69
Status: under environmental assessment

In a letter to the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board dated May 28, lawyers for the Tlicho government asked the review board to issue a ruling on whether the environmental assessment for Fortune Minerals' NICO project, located 50 km north of Whati, should be temporarily suspended.

The government is concerned that Fortune's application to build and operate the $250 million gold-cobalt-bismuth mine does not include provisions for an access road cutting across Tlicho lands - an essential component of the mine.

The government also charges that Fortune has not yet asked for permission to build an access road.

Tlicho Grand Chief Joe Rabesca told News/North on Tuesday that while the company may have engaged in talks about a road with the previous chief's executive council, no such talks have taken place with his government.

"They haven't," said Rabesca. "Maybe they've done that with the previous chiefs ... but not with this government, and they need to talk to us.

"I'd like to see the mine go ahead, but there's a way that we have to do things."

Robin Goad, president and CEO of Fortune Minerals, denied Rabesca's claim, saying Fortune has expressed an interest in building and financing a spur off a long-proposed Tlicho all-weather road for several years.

"We have been trying to get the Tlicho government to the table on a road for about 10 years," said Goad. "If the Tlicho want this project to proceed, and if they want a road to their isolated communities to improve the quality of life in those communities, everybody should be at the table. Right now, the Tlicho have not been at the table."

NICO was referred to environmental assessment by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada in February 2009.

Asked why the Tlicho did not raise their concerns about Fortune's application earlier, Rabesca said, "That's a difficult question to (answer). There's a lot of things that are going out there right now, and we're very busy ... But I know that Fortune Mineralsneeds to go ahead."

A moratorium blocking any development on Tlicho lands pending the completion of a land use plan has been in place since 2005, the year the Tlicho land claim was signed.

Work on the land use plan continues, said Rabesca.

The review board is expected to make its ruling after July 2.

The NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines has been a vocal critic of the NWT's regulatory system, frequently citing several proposed mines, including NICO, as being held up by permitting issues.

"Any prolonged delays in completing environmental assessments or completing permitting are not good for the mineral industry," said John Kearney, chamber president.

"NICO is not a new discovery; it's been around now for many years and it still hasn't worked its way through the permitting system."

NICO was discovered by Fortune in 1996 and contains reserves of 31 million tonnes including 907,000 ounces of gold, 82 million pounds of cobalt and 109 million pounds of bismuth.

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