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By Rose Ragsdale
For Mining News 

Wanted: More Far North infrastructure

NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines map proposal for network of roads, ports, power facilities and railroads to maximize development


Last updated 8/30/2009 at Noon

While many business organizations promote infrastructure development in the communities they serve, few of them craft as detailed a visualization of their wish lists as a map created recently by the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines.

Chamber members drew a full-color representation of where they would like to see roads, ports, power plants and railroads built that would maximize economic development in Canada's Far North, including Yukon Territory.

"It's a discussion document," Chamber General Manager Mike Vaydik told Mining News Aug. 19. "We put it out there to stimulate discussion on different options. It's a broad-stroke approach to developing the mineral deposits we know about in the region."

Vaydik said Northwest Territories and Nunavut comprise about one-third of the land mass of Canada, which is the second-largest country in the world. Yet the area has only a few kilometers of roads.

"It is a large area of untapped resources and vast resources mean high costs," he said. One chamber proposal is to build a road through the Slave geological province, which would enable development of about 11 potential mining projects. "It could become a major mining camp, providing jobs and other economic benefits to the region," Vaydik said.

The Far North has no electricity grid. Every community in Nunavut relies on diesel for power, making rising oil and gas costs a major concern. In Northwest Territories, fortunately, some communities get hydropower from a dam built 50 years ago. Nothing has been built since.

Vaydik says the chamber is inviting discussion of the use of small nuclear reactors like those developed in Japan and the United States.

"We would like to see those studied without the knee-jerk reactions that nuclear power has gotten in the past," he said. "Even the environmental community is beginning to understand that these plants can be properly managed."

The Chamber also envisions deepwater port construction in strategic locations in the North and the Mackenzie River, which flows into the Beaufort Sea, studied as a possible export-import route for goods moving to and from Asia.

Collaboration needed

Vaydik said his group wants to see a major collaborative infrastructure planning effort that brings together all three Canadian territories with aboriginal governments.

"I think we would all benefit from an integrated strategy that we can take to the federal government," he said. "We also have to be able to show that infrastructure development in the North is good for Canada as a whole."

Vaydik said he always shows visitors to mines and infrastructure facilities in Northwest Territories labels on the equipment at these sites to make his point about development in the Far North benefiting the rest of Canada.

"They see 'Made in Quebec' or 'Ontario,' on the equipment and know that development up here benefits Canadian manufacturing," he said.

The Chamber would like to see power and transportation consultants hired to study the Far North's infrastructure needs and provide feedback.

Vaydik said the Chamber is promoting the discussion because government has approached infrastructure development in the region from a service perspective. For example, the government is considering building a road that follows the Mackenzie River. While it would give people better access, it would have no real economic impact, he said.

The Chamber also intends to step up its involvement in infrastructure talks.

"We have to have some detailed discussions with the governments involved, and we will be presenting the map at three conferences this fall in Northwest Territories," Vaydik said. "The major thing we need to do then is start putting some numbers on the potential projects. We need to make the big case to make an impact."

Territorial status slows development

The Canadian government has oversight of highway development in Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The territorial governments are working with the federal governments but various aboriginal governments also must be consulted in any infrastructure planning.

Bob McLeod, minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment for Northwest Territories, told Mining News Aug. 20 that his government is working closely with all parties involved because the region definitely needs infrastructure development, especially roads and hydropower.

"We look at the broader issue," he said, referring to the chamber of mines' initiative.

McLeod said the federal government has responsibility for roads in the territories, but the territorial government is working with Ottawa on access roads.

"A lot of people feel we need a Mackenzie Highway to go all the way from coast to coast," McLeod said.

He said the stakeholders recently set up a consortium, led by the aboriginal governments, to work on infrastructure development.

"We're one of the most expensive places to live in North America," McLeod said. "With infrastructure development, we would see the cost of living going down."


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