Stamp of approval: mining on the move in NWT

Stamp of approval: mining on the move in NWT
Winter drilling is done at Avalon Rare Metals’ Nechalacho site at Thor Lake. The rare earth elements project moved into the permitting phase in November after ministerial approval.Photo: Avalon Rare Metals.

As some of the Northwest Territories’ larger and older mines begin showing their wrinkles and grey hairs, a fresh round of digging is gearing up to take aim at the resource-abundant Northern terrain as approvals in 2013 for new boring projects were far from scarce.

The Gahcho Kué diamond mine north of Lutsel K’e and Fortune Minerals’ NICO cobalt-gold-bismuth-copper mine in the heart of the Tlicho region both received various green lights, some within the same week of one another.

The Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board (MVEIRB) approved De Beers’ Gahcho Kué, the NWT’s fourth diamond mine project located at Kennady Lake about 280 km northeast of Yellowknife, in July with a number of conditions.

The board said the mine will likely cause significant negative impacts on the Bathurst caribou herd and recommended a number of measures be taken, including implementing a habitat protection and monitoring plan. It also called for efforts to be undertaken to keep the mine’s footprint as small as possible.

The Tlicho Government, Yellowknives Dene First Nation, Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation and Deninu Kue First Nation all requested the feds to halt approval of Gahcho Kué until stronger measures were implemented to mitigate adverse environmental impacts, such as the mine’s impact on the Bathurst caribou herd and the future of Kennady Lake, which would be drained for the project.

The federal government ignored the calls from First Nations to delay the project and gave De Beers and Mountain Province Diamonds the go ahead in October to begin processing licenses for Gahcho Kué. A pioneer Land Use Permit was approved by the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board in December.

Meanwhile, NICO, located 50 km northeast of Whati, received two key approvals in July as well as with both the Tlicho government and minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt. The decision to move ahead marked the first time an Aboriginal government has had a say alongside of Canada.

NICO’s operating company, Fortune Minerals, said it estimates it will take four to six months to get the water license and land use permits as the next steps, but that construction could begin in 2014. Fortune Minerals has partnered with Procon, a majority Chinese-owned company, raising $11.7 million towards financing the project.

Avalon Rare Metals Inc. received approval for the Nechalacho Rare Earth Element Project later in the year, which includes a mine site at Thor Lake, roughly 5 km north of the Hearne Channel of Great Slave Lake and 100 km southeast of Yellowknife. The review board gave the company the thumbs up in July, though its 220-page report said the mine poses significant but manageable risks to water, wildlife and the social and economic environment.

Despite numerous social and environmental conditions, finding financing for the mine has proved to be the most daunting task facing Avalon, which is still searching for investors despite moving to the permitting phase in November.

The same was true for Tamerlane Ventures Inc., based in Washington state, who purchased the currently defunct Pine Point site and the surrounding area in 2004, and spent 2013 looking for $140 million, give or take, to start building and mining lead and zinc again.

Companies weren’t the only ones thinking about the Territories’ waning mines in 2013.

The new NWT Mineral Development Strategy sought to provide ways to attract more business for a mineral boom in the NWT again.

The strategy recommends governmental action in an assortment of ways including engaging in aggressive marketing, investing in infrastructure, creating a new regulatory environment, accelerating land use planning, more effective consultation with Aboriginal governments and further training for employees in mines and related sectors.

That said, with the mining industry’s biggest roadblock relating back to wildlife and the environment when it comes time for approvals, the strategy pays little notice to issues of a greener nature.

2014: here come more holes and all their implications.

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