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By Rose Ragsdale
For Mining News 

Park expansion provides for mine access


Last updated 7/26/2009 at Noon

The Canadian government recently approved a massive expansion of the Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada, a move being hailed as a win for both conservation and economic development.

"Nahanni is one of the Crown jewels of our incredible system of national parks and it is with pride that I take part in the greatest conservation achievement in a generation," said the Honorable Jim Prentice, Canada's Environment Minister and minister responsible for Parks Canada. "Enshrining this magnificent area in legislation, under the Canada National Parks Act, is a gift to future generations that will ensure Nahanni National Park Reserve is managed according to the most stringent conservation standards."

Chuck Strahl, Canada's Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, joined Prentice in announcing the government's decision June 9.

Dehcho First Nations approve

Canada's House of Commons and Senate passed the park expansion legislation June 17, amending the Canada National Parks Act.

Strahl said the reserve is important to the culture of the Dehcho First Nations. "The expanded boundary will ensure Nahanni continues to be revered as a place of mystery, spirituality and healing," he explained.

"Even when we don't walk on the land, our spirit is walking the land," said J. Antoine, a member of Nahanni Expansion Working Group. "This work has taken many years, many people working with passion and dedication. We must always remember the words of our elders, "take care of the land and the land will take care of us."

The expansion will make Nahanni six times its current size, and the third-largest park in Canada. It will protect over 30,000 square kilometers, or 11,583 square miles, (a little less than the size of Vancouver Island). The expanded reserve also will cover about 91 percent of the Greater Nahanni Ecosystem in the Dehcho region. It will enhance Nahanni's UNESCO World Heritage Site designation as a protected area and will include much of the South Nahanni River watershed, a pristine wilderness known for its unparalleled natural beauty.

The enlarged park also completely encircles the Prairie Creek Mine zinc-lead-silver project in the southern Mackenzie Mountains being pursued by Canadian Zinc Corp. The Prairie Creek Mine and a large surrounding area of about 300 square kilometers, or roughly 74,132 acres, are specifically excluded from the park and are not part of the expanded reserve.

Ministers tour mine site

During a visit to Prairie Creek July 17, Strahl said the exclusion of the mine from the expanded park "allows for the creation of a generation's worth of high value jobs and potential long-term economic opportunities for the people of the Dehcho First Nations, through the agreements that have been entered into with Canadian Zinc."

Touring the Prairie Creek Mine site facilities with Prentice, Strahl said the federal government's decision on the expansion of Nahanni National Park reflects a balanced approach to development and to conservation, which allows for mineral resource and energy development in the Northwest Territories and at the same time protects the environment.

"The balanced approach allows for future development of energy and mineral resources in the region outside the park reserve and provides economic opportunities, something that is important for all the people of NWT and for all Canadians," the minister said.

"Securing agreement on the expansion of the Park required a careful balancing of all the interests, including those of the Northwest Territorial Government, that want to see economic development in the North. The development of the Prairie Creek Mine has been an important part of the discussions, Strahl added.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada worked with Parks Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Territorial Governments to undertake a mineral and energy resource assessment of the expansion area. The assessment ensured that the economic and strategic significance of mineral and energy resource potential was adequately considered in the national park expansion process.

Its results, along with conservation research studies, were used to create a boundary that balances key conservation targets and potential future economic benefit. Nine percent of the Greater Nahanni ecosystem has been excluded from the expanded national park reserve. This represents all the hydrocarbon potential and about half of the most important mineral potential identified by the assessment, as well as 100 percent of the existing mineral claims and mining leases such as the Prairie Creek Mine, currently under development, and the operating Cantung Mine.

The Government of Canada recognizes pre-existing third-party mining rights, including access to those rights. Development of these rights, including the right of access, will still be subject to existing regulations.

Plans for 20-year mine life

The Prairie Creek mineral deposit contains very substantial quantities of zinc, lead and silver. A major underground tunneling and diamond drilling program completed in 2006 -2007 led to the completion of an NI 43-101-compliant report October 2007, which estimated that the Prairie Creek property hosts total measured and indicated resources of 5,840,329 metric tons grading 10.71 percent zinc, 9.90 percent lead, 0.326 percent copper, and 161.12 grams per metric ton silver. In addition, the report confirms a large inferred resource of 5,541,576 metric tons grading 13.53 percent zinc, 11.43 percent lead, 0.514 percent copper and 215 g/t silver and additional exploration potential.

The measured and indicated resources are capable of supporting 14-plus years of mine life at a planned initial rate of 600 tpd, which will increase to 1,200 tpd, and the future inclusion of inferred resources is expected to extend the mine's life to at least 20 years.

The mine includes partially developed underground workings with an existing 1,000-metric-ton-per-day mill and related infrastructure and equipment. The proposed new operation at Prairie Creek utilizes the existing infrastructure and facilities that were built in the 1980s and which will be upgraded and enhanced to meet current-day environmental standards.

The proposed development and operation of the Prairie Creek Project is currently undergoing environmental assessment by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Review Board, which is expected to be completed by October 2010.

Boon to region's economy

When in production the mine will add significantly to Canada's production of lead and zinc concentrates and will create employment for about 225 people and business opportunities for local communities in the Dehcho region of the Northwest Territories, which currently has a very high unemployment rate and a growing population.

Canadian Zinc worked very closely, and constructively, with officials at Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and at Parks Canada to achieve a balanced solution, which facilitates both the expansion of Nahanni National Park and the development of the Prairie Creek Mine, said Canadian Zinc Corp. Chairman John Kearney.

The mine "will bring much needed jobs, benefits, business opportunities and economic stimulus to the Dehcho Region of the Northwest Territories and presents a unique opportunity to strengthen and enhance the social and economic well-being of the surrounding Dehcho communities," Kearney added.

In addition to expanding the park and excluding the Prairie Creek Mine, the new legislation also enables the Minister of the Environment to grant leases, licenses of occupation of, and easements over, public lands situated in the expansion area for the purposes of a mining access road leading to the Prairie Creek Area, including the sites of storage and other facilities connected with that road.

Heretofore, an access road to a mine through a national park was not permitted under the Canada National Parks Act, and the act was amended solely for Nahanni National Park Reserve and specifically for the purpose of providing access to the Prairie Creek Mine area.


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