Interest renewed in massive Izok lake lead and zinc deposit
Hopes revived for Bathurst port and road
Charlie Lyall, president of the Kitikmeot Corp., has pushed the Bathurst Inlet Port and Road Project for nearly a decade as the key to unlocking enough mining jobs for all of Nunavut.
Backers of the project originally envisioned trucks hauling supplies to mines along a 290-kilometre road stretching from Contwoyto Lake to a deep-sea port at Bathurst Inlet by now. So far, they don't have much to show.
But Lyall and other backers haven't lost hope, and plan to submit a draft environmental impact assessment to the Nunavut Impact Review Board by autumn 2007.
In four years, Lyall boasts he anticipates the "pleasant problem" of having too many jobs available in the Kitikmeot.
Buoying his hopes is Wolfden Resources, a company that owns the massive Izok Lake lead and zinc deposit, as well as the High Lake and Ulu gold mines.
Ewan Downie, the CEO of Wolfden, said this week his company is helping to pay to revive the port and road project, which until recently looked like it would remain a big dream.
Trouble first arose for the project when Inmet, the former owner of the Izok Lake deposit, pulled out of the project in 2003 due to low global prices for lead and zinc.
Those prices have since rebounded, and "Izok without a road and port won't get built," Downie said.
Wolfden currently has plans to build an alternate road and port, well west of Bathurst Inlet, leading to the Coronation Gulf. But Downie said the Bathurst Inlet route would be needed for Izok Lake, and some other smaller mines.
Support from mining companies is welcome. Backers of the proposed port and road haven't received much help from the Government of Nunavut, who they once hoped would sign on as a partner.
Each time Keith Peterson, MLA for Cambridge Bay, asked cabinet ministers to help pay for the proposed port and road, expected to cost $237 million, he's been brushed off.
Lyall is used to it. He's fond of commenting how people in Nunavut's capital think the territory's boundary ends at the airport runway.
"My sense of the Nunavut government is, if it's not good for the eastern Arctic, then it's not worth it. It'll always be like that," he said on Friday.
"They're so afraid of being overrun by the terrible people from the Kitikmeot. It's, ‘Keep them away as far as possible.'"
Lyall now says he doesn't need Nunavut's help. He says the project's two key proponents – the Kitikmeot Corp. and Nuna Logistics, an Inuit-owned firm that specializes in building ice roads – are in talks with major financial institutions interested in backing the port and road, although he won't say who.
"There's money in Alberta that's waiting to be spent," Lyall said.
The project has its detractors, including those who live in an outpost camp in Bathurst Inlet. But Lyall said most of the 100 residents who attended a meeting in Cambridge Bay last week overwhelmingly supported building the port and road.
Most Kitikmeot residents want jobs for their kids, he said, and money to buy snowmobiles, gas, and camping supplies. He dismisses those opposed to the project as a "vocal minority."
"If you did a population poll in February," Lyall said of the outpost camps, "you'd probably find a population of zero, because they're all in Yellowknife or Cambridge Bay."
Besides opening up mines, the road and port would also bring down the cost of fuel and cargo for Kitikmeot communities.
But the project would likely destroy the famous Bathurst Inlet Lodge, which caters to eco-tourists eager to experience pristine Arctic wilderness. It's unlikely these visitors will want to camp next to a fuel tank farm.
Others worry about the possibility of a fuel tanker spilling oil along the Arctic coast. Lyall says companies will follow all the necessary provisions to prevent spills, and clean them up if they happen. "I don't see that being a big issue. We'll comply to the letter of the law. It'd be foolish to do otherwise."
And then there's caribou.
The Bathurst herd of caribou, which spend their spring and summer near the Arctic coast around Bathurst Inlet, and migrate below the treeline during the winter, have declined in number dramatically, by 74 per cent, over the last 20 years, from a high of 472,000 in 1986 to about 128,000 today.
No one knows why. Most Arctic animals experience booms and busts in their populations. Some Kitikmeot hunters have suggested growing numbers of wolves in the region have led to the Bathurst herd's decline.
In any case, there's no evidence to suggest mines are to blame, Lyall said.
The Canadian Arctic Resource Committee, once a firm opponent of the port and road project, is waiting to review the environmental impact assessment before it passes judgment, said executive director David Gladders.
CARC once feared the proposed road would cut through the Bathurst herd's breeding grounds. But new data shows the proposed road is well south of the breeding grounds, Lyall said. Gladders acknowledged this may be true.
After all these years, Lyall remains hopeful. Not that he expects help. He says people in the Kitikmeot are used to doing things themselves.
"Don't worry. We'll let people from the eastern Arctic come and work here," Lyall said, laughing.