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Canada’s Nunavut territory is taking early steps toward building the first deep-water port in the Central Arctic, located at the mid-point of the Northwest Passage.
The port would ease access to international markets for the territory’s gold, copper, and diamond mines. Companies active in the region include MMG Ltd., currently developing a zinc and copper mine near Izok, TMAC Resources Inc., developing a gold mine at Hope Bay, and Tundra Copper Corp., which is exploring for copper near the proposed port’s location.
The Grays Bay project also would link Nunavut to the national highway and rail systems of the Northwest Territories via the proposed Tibbitt-Contwoyto Winter Road, which would be the first to connect Nunavut to the rest of Canada and forge the first overland connection between Canada and a port on the Northwest Passage, according to the project overview.
The territorial government on Aug. 24 said the Nunavut Impact Review Board formally accepted the Grays Bay Road and Port project proposal, clearing the way for screening the project.
The port and road could transform the territory’s economy. The port would be built, managed and operated jointly by the Nunavut government and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association aboriginal group and would connect the significant mineral resources of the Slave Geological Province, which straddles Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, to Arctic shipping routes.
“We are beginning to shape the potential development of Nunavut’s economic future with nation-building infrastructure,” Monica Ell-Kanayuk, the territory’s Minister of Economic Development and Transportation, said in a statement. The screening process will give all stakeholders and the public a chance to understand the details of the project, she said.
The Kitikmeot Inuit community is excited by this milestone in the project approval process, which has included significant support from local municipalities and the community’s approximately 6,000 members, Paul Emingak, executive director of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, said Aug. 24.
To date, there hasn’t been any significant opposition to the project, Emingak told Bloomberg BNA. “We haven’t heard from environmental groups on whether or not they oppose it. We’re not at that stage yet.”
World Wildlife Fund Canada wants a full, stringent environmental review of the project, particularly because the proposed all-weather road would cross the calving ground for the Bathurst caribou herd, Brandon Laforest, the environmental group’s senior specialist on Arctic species and ecosystems, said Aug. 25.
“Our position is that there should be no development at all in the calving area,” Laforest told Bloomberg BNA, noting that the Bathurst herd’s population has dropped to 20,000 from a high of 470,000 and that aboriginal groups in the Northwest Territories are heavily dependent on it for their traditional way of life.
The Grays Bay proposal calls for construction of a deep-water port at Grays Bay on the Coronation Gulf and a 233-kilometer (145-mile), all-season road from the port to Jericho Station, home to the Jericho Diamond Mine, which is currently dormant.
TMAC Resources’ Hope Bay project involves three high-grade gold deposits in Nunavut’s Kitikmeot Region which are estimated by the company to contain 4.9 million ounces of gold. Tundra Copper Corp., owned by Vancouver-based Kaizen Discovery Inc., is exploring for copper resources on more than 3,500 square kilometers (1,350 square miles) near the town of Kugluktuk, also on the Coronation Gulf.
The port would be open to ships and small vessels during the July-October open water season. The four-year construction project also would include bridges and culverts, quarries, diesel storage tanks, a runway and other port facilities.
Caribou populations that traverse the area where the port would be located could be affected, but that has been taken into consideration from the start in designing the proposal, Emingak said. “We take caribou issues seriously,” he said.
The project would affect land used by three caribou herds, but the proponents are developing a range of measures to minimize negative impacts, according to a project overview on the assessment agency’s website.
The port will not be open when caribou are crossing the Coronation Gulf in the spring and fall, and the all-weather road that is also part of the project will be closed to vehicles when another herd is calving, the overview said. Side slopes of the road will be flatter and packed down in areas where caribou are expected or known to cross, and construction activity will be shut down at times when large numbers of caribou are nearby, it said.
Laforest said the proposed measures to limit the road’s impact might work under normal circumstances, but even the presence of a road can be a problem for a calving ground, particularly for a herd that is already suffering.
The project overview noted that future users of the port aren’t considered directly part of the project as their activities are conducted away from the port and wouldn’t be under the direct management of the port’s owners. “Such future users would include any ships or trucks needed to build or operate future mining projects, such as the Izok Corridor Project. These types of projects would have to go through their own environmental assessment,” the overview said.
MMG Ltd.’s C$6.5 billion ($5.2 billion) Izok Corridor Project involves development of a zinc and copper mine near Izok Lake. Shortly after the Nunavut agency launched a detailed review in 2013, the company decided the project was uneconomic due to the infrastructure requirements of construction in the Arctic. The company’s website says it continues to work on making the project feasible.
The territorial agency has 45 days to complete the screening assessment, which includes a public comment period. The agency can: approve the project, potentially imposing terms and conditions; require a full environmental and socio-economic review; send the proposal back to the proponent for clarification; or recommend that the project be modified or abandoned.
Based on the agency’s conclusion, federal Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett can accept or reject a decision to allow the project to proceed, direct the agency to reconsider any terms and conditions imposed, overturn a negative decision if the project is deemed to be in the national interest, or refer the decision report back to the agency for further review.
Reviews are more comprehensive assessments generally reserved for major development projects or projects that may cause significant public concern, the agency says in a description of its screening process. Reviews require the proponent to develop an environmental impact statement and the scheduling of a full public hearing, and projects approved after a review are issued a project certificate, it said.
“We expect it to go forward to a broader review where all these things will come out,” Laforest of the World Wildlife Fund said. “There’s a lot at stake with this project.”
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