With recent approval from the Legislative Assembly, support from the Prime Minister and a final design determined, the $300-million Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway project has a tentative construction date set for January 2014, but it is still facing several hurdles before work can begin.
“It’s undergoing final internal review, but we do have a final design for both the road alignment and proposed bridges and culverts along the highway. There may be some tweaks to designs, but that’s why we’re doing the final review on it,” said Jim Stevens, the project director.
“Basically they want to ensure that what we put there will last a long time and doesn’t become a maintenance issue,” he told The Journal.
Currently, the highway project is awaiting a decision on a contractor to undertake the construction. Stevens said the chosen contractor will likely be announced in November, allowing the project to get somewhat of a move on.
“This would allow construction to start initially on the (gravel) pits. We have to develop the pits for the material. Then sometime late January, you would actually see construction on the new road embankment begin,” he said.
Another hurdle for the project is obtaining a water license through hearings from the NWT water quality board, Stevens said.
“The water board is interested in two issues…They want to make sure all of our construction activities maintain current water quality, so they’re looking for a lot of things around sedimentation and erosion control and what type of structures we’re putting around the highway. And the second issue is water quantity. We have to extract a lot of water out of the adjacent lakes,” he said.
A pre-hearing conference has been set for Sept. 16, which could potentially lead to public hearings in both Inuvik and Tuk.
On top of this, Stevens said the water board will be scrutinizing the project to make sure it satisfies concerns from other regulators affected by the highway route, such as the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Inuvialuit Land Administration and co-management groups.
The highway will run through the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, but negotiations between the GNWT and the Inuvialuit Regional Corp. (IRC) involving the royalty rate for material used in construction and the land tenure agreement have not yet been finalized.
“The GNWT is in active negotiations with them. A final agreement has yet to be reached, but we anticipate something very soon,” Stevens said.
He noted that the current process proposed to obtain land tenure could involve a land swapping deal in which the Crown provides land to replace the private IRC land surrounding the future highway.
Despite all the steps yet to be taken, Stevens said the project has been gaining momentum and looks like it will bring in revenue and create skilled labour.
“It’s a big project – a lot of excitement up there. We are working with regulators and residents to ensure that the project goes forward successfully,” he said.