GNWT seeks $1.8 billion for two all-season roads

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The Northwest Territories has formally asked Ottawa for about $1.8 billion to help fund the construction of two major roadways that have been on the territory’s agenda for years.

Infrastructure minister Wally Schumann says the proposed roads will be a boon to NWT’s resource sector and to northwestern communities.Walter Strong/NNSL photo

Last week the GNWT announced it had submitted the request to fund Slave Geological Province Access Corridor – which is essentially a road from Yellowknife to the diamond mines – and an extension of the Mackenzie Highway from Wrigley to Inuvik, according to Infrastructure Minister Wally Schumann said Tuesday.

The Slave Geological Province Access Corridor would provide all-weather ground transportation to the territory’s three operational diamond mines Diavik, owned by Rio Tinto and Harry Winston Diamond Corp.; Snap Lake owned by DeBeers Canada Inc.; and Ekati owned by BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc.

The three mines are currently connected by the Tibbit to Contwoyto Winter Road.

“There are significant base and precious metal prospects in the Slave Geological Province that require all-weather access for exploration and development,” Schumann told the legislative assembly in February. “By increasing access to the Slave Geological Province, the Government of the Northwest Territories will increase investor confidence and enable our territory to reach its full economic potential.”

The GNWT has “not officially” consulted with the Tlicho or Akaitcho Governments on a potential road through the Slave Geological Province, said Schumann.

“Off the record we’ve had conversations with various different people about what kind of support is out there for it,” he said, adding the department will be “engaging everybody” if the federal government approves the funding.

Yellowknifer was unable to get comment from Tlicho or Akaitcho governments before Wednesday’s press deadline.

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly has expressed concern that an all-season road in the Slave Geological Province will disrupt the Bathurst caribou herd migration and breeding grounds.

In the legislative assembly in March, Premier Bob McLeod said the government “will continue to do our part to ensure that there is a balance,” between the protecting caribou and economic development. “We do like to see economic development but not at all costs,” he said.

It is unclear if the government has finalized a plan to mitigate the impacts on caribou of an all-season road in the Slave Geological Province.

Ecology North also reserved comment on the issue, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society-NWT (CPAWS) said it needed more information before making a statement.

The GNWT is also requesting funds to push forward the Mackenzie Valley Highway plan, which would see Highway 1 extended from Wrigley to Inuvik.

“Aboriginal groups up and down the valley have been advocating for this road since 1970,” said Schumann. “They’re probably pushing that road as hard as I am, if not harder.”

The federal government has earmarked $400 million over the next 11 years to Northern transportation infrastructure through its Northern Trade Corridors Fund.

During a whirlwind visit to the Yukon earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised that territory $247 million to improve roads and bridges to mining regions.

Money granted to the Yukon came from the separate New Build Canada fund, and has no bearing on the amount set aside for Northern transportation corridors, cabinet spokesperson Andrew Livingstone confirmed Monday.

“That $400 million is up for grabs,” he said.

Should it agree to fund one or both of the proposed NWT roadways, the federal government would supply up to 75 per cent of the cost. The territory would contribute the remaining 25 per cent, and may seek a private partnership to help foot the bill.

The territorial government will find out next month whether its submission has been accepted. The government will then be required to submit an in-depth project proposal to Ottawa by the Nov. 6.