Bye, bye BIPR: Nunavut port-road scheme still frozen
Two Kitikmeot road projects remain stuck in the ditch
The two mining companies that own the Bathurst Inlet Port Road project will keep their once highly-touted proposal in the deep freeze for at least one more year, if not longer, the proponents told regulators Jan. 4.
First conceived in the late 1990s under different proponents, the BIPR has long been touted as a way to supply mines in the interior of the western Kitikimeot and ship base metal ore to market.
But the current BIPR proponents, Sabina Gold and Silver Corp. and Glencore Corp., say they have no plans this year to submit a draft environmental impact statement to the Nunavut Impact Review Board.
The proposed transportation system involves a deep water port at Bathurst Inlet and a 211-km road running from the port past properties controlled by Sabina and Glencore.
Glencore is the owner of the Hackett River zinc-silver-copper property. If that project is ever developed, it would need the BIPR to ship base metal ore out of Nunavut.
Sabina, former owner of the property, filed a project description in 2008 for Hackett River, but the property’s new owner, Glencore, has never filed a draft environmental impact statement.
At the same time, Sabina’s Back River gold project is now languishing in limbo following the NIRB’s ruling in June 2016 that recommended the project not go ahead.
Backed by the Government of Nunavut, the Kitikmeot Inuit Association and some Kitikmeot communities, such as Cambridge Bay, Sabina has asked the federal government to reject the NIRB’s decision and issue a project certificate for Back River anyway.
But Ottawa has yet to agree to Sabina’s request.
Though Sabina says Back River would use its own transportation corridors, the lack of movement on other mining projects means the BIPR project will remain stalled.
“As you are aware, the BIPR Project has been previously considered as potential shared infrastructure for resource development within the Kitikmeot region, including both Hackett and Back River.
“Currently, while Sabina’s Back River Project is proceeding through our NIRB process (with our own transportation corridors) other potential projects which may have used the road are not advancing towards development at this time,” Matthew Pickard of Sabina said in a Jan. 4 letter to the NIRB.
In the original 2002 version of the BIPR, owned then by Kitikmeot Inuit Association and Nuna Logistics, the port-road scheme was promoted as a way of unlocking the enormous zinc deposit at Izok Lake.
But the current developer of the Izok Lake property, Chinese-owned MMG Ltd., which also owns a zinc deposit at High Lake, has been studying another road-port system further to the west that terminates instead on Coronation Gulf at Grays Bay and bypasses the BIPR.
That project is also frozen, after MMG said in 2013 that under current market conditions, the Izok project is not viable.
To add to the confusion, the Government of Nunavut and the KitIA are now promoting their own road-port project to Grays Bay.
That scheme would cost $500 million, with the federal government expected to pick up 75 per cent of the cost.
The Grays Bay scheme does not include a road spur to Izok Lake, although it would run through MMG’s High Lake property.
But that idea doesn’t seem to be going anywhere either. This past September, Amarjeet Sohi, the federal minister of infrastructure and communities, said the Grays Bay project “is not at a stage where it can move forward.”
As for MMG, they’re not planning much activity next year.
This past December, an MMG spokesperson told the NIRB they have no plans to update the Izok project next year.
“MMG is continuing work towards an economically viable plan to develop our Izok and High Lake base metal properties in western Nunavut. As noted previously, the primary challenge is the lack of infrastructure in the region. MMG will provide the NIRB with an update on project status in Q4 2017,” Sahba Safavi of MMG told the NIRB in a Dec. 6 letter.