Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Ottawa commits $25M to build permanent road to Prairie Creek

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The federal government says it is investing up to $25 million for the construction of an all-season road from Highway 7 to the Dehcho’s proposed Prairie Creek mine site.

NWT MP Michael McLeod announced the funding, which comes from the National Trade Corridors Fund, in Yellowknife on Monday.

The site is currently accessible to road traffic only by winter road. The new gravel road will stretch for 170 km.

“The project will mean year-round access not only to the mine site but to the Nahɂą Dehé Dene Band’s traditional territories, as well as the national park areas,” McLeod said.

“This project will benefit local Indigenous communities and boost tourism and ecotourism to the national Nahanni Park Nature Reserve, and will help Prairie Creek mine to produce and transport critical minerals.”

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The proposed zinc, silver and lead mine is located in the southern Mackenzie Mountains adjacent to Prairie Creek, also known as Tl’o Dehe, about 43 km upstream of its confluence with the South Nahanni River.

The mine site sits on a parcel of land entirely surrounded by the Nahanni National Park Reserve.

Robin Bienestock, executive chair of NorZinc, said the “shovel ready” project has the potential to bring in around $8 billion over its life, which is estimated to be 20 years.

“We’re going to bring opportunities with regards to employment, development, housing, training, infrastructure and hopefully the creation of new businesses in the region,” she said.

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The project has faced delays, while concerns have been raised about its potential environmental and cultural impacts.

The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board has since approved water licences and a land permit for the mine. NorZinc has signed impact benefit agreements with the Nahɂą Dehé Dene Band and Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation.

Bienestock said on Monday the company is committed to developing the mine responsibly and in collaboration with First Nations.

“This is a special place and we want to carry out this project as respectfully as we can, both with regards to the First Nations and with regards to the environment,” she said.

Nahɂą Dehé Dene Band Chief Steve Vital and Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation Chief Kele Antoine said the project will bring benefits to their members.

Chief Vital said his community has already seen benefits from construction of the winter road to the mine site, which included a mulched trail and allowed for geotechnical studies.

“It benefitted everything in Nahanni Butte,” he said, adding the community’s hotel was full and the project provided opportunities for local environmental monitors.

“We want to make sure that all of our people have an opportunity to get trained up, and to grow, and hopefully contribute back to our First Nations and provide some good role models for our youth, so we can continue that cycle,” Chief Antoine said.

Bienestock said construction of the road is expected to begin in 2025 and will take two years. She said NorZinc aims to begin production at the mine in 2028.

The Prairie Creek mine site was previously developed in the 1980s, when Cadillac Explorations built infrastructure and facilities. The mine was in production for three months before it was placed into receivership.

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