A proposed all-season road through the resource-rich Slave Geological Province has been denied federal funding.
The Slave Geological Province Access Corridor would have connected Yellowknife to the Nunavut border and run close to Ekati and Diavik diamond mines.
“While it is unfortunate that funding for the Slave Geological Access Corridor was not approved in the first round, the GNWT is still committed to pursuing other sources of funding for this priority project,” Wally Schumann, minister of Infrastructure, Tourism and Investment, stated on April 27.
Such a corridor would help boost mineral exploration and support mining – a major contributor to the territorial economy – stated Schumann.
The ultimate goal was for the road to connect to another proposed corridor, the Grays Bay Road in Nunavut, which would extend to a deep-water port in the Arctic Ocean. Funding for the Grays Bay project was also denied recently.
A year-round road through the Slave Geological Province has been on the territorial government’s wish list for years.
“It’s disappointing that we got turned down,” said Tom Hoefer, executive director of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines.
The Slave Geological Province is among the richest geological regions in Canada, said Hoefer, but without road access, it is costly to mine there and ship heavy base metals out.
The chamber estimates it costs about 2.5 times as much to build a base metal mine in the North as it does in the south, and that it is up to six times more expensive to explore in the North than it is in the south.
“If we’re ever going to get a self-reliant economy and an even stronger mineral industry behind it, we need to have infrastructure,” said Hoefer.
It is unclear why Ottawa declined to grant funding for the road.
Greg Hanna, a spokesperson for the GNWT’s infrastructure department said this time around, “only a limited number of projects” got approved for money from the National Trade Corridor Fund.
“We anticipate a future round of submissions for funding that is specific to projects in the three territories,” said Hanna.
Not everyone was disheartened by news the road did not get the green light.
Kevin O’Reilly, the MLA for Frame Lake, said it was “fool-hardy and ill-advised” to move ahead with a road through the Slave Geological Province without an adequate management plan to protect the Bathurst Caribou herd.
O’Reilly added that he doesn’t believe investing public money into mining infrastructure will yield the “best bang for our buck.”
Last week, the territory’s three diamond mines told MLAs that they are not meeting their Northern hiring targets.
“What real advantage do we get from this if we can’t hire Northerners for jobs at the existing diamond mines? Why continue to promote that kind of development?” said O’Reilly.
“If we invest money into any other part of the economy, we will actually create more jobs … we really need to diversify the economy.”
The territorial government also applied for funding for the Mackenzie Valley Highway, which would run south from the Inuvik-to-Tuktoyuktuk highway along the Mackenzie River to Wrigley, connecting a number of communities along the way.
The GNWT is still waiting to hear back from Ottawa about whether that all-season road will get funded.