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Construction and maintenance of the Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road will proceed as normal this winter despite the Covid pandemic and the closure of the Ekati diamond mine.

The loads transported to the mines might be lower than usual but they’ll still be large, said Mike Lowing, director of winter road operations, with the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road Joint Venture. Rio Tinto, Dominion Diamond Mines and De Beers Canada are the joint venture partners.

“It’s business as normal as far as construction and maintenance goes,” Lowing said. “Whether it’s 1,000 trucks or 10,000 (that go), the road is built to the same standards. You still need crews there to open it up.”

Trucks drive up the Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road, built mostly on frozen lakes northeast of Yellowknife.
photo courtesy of the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road Joint Venture

An estimate of the loads and tonnage expected to go up the road will be ready by the first week of November, Lowing said.

In response to the Covid pandemic, the joint venture is in the process of developing protocols with its medical director for the safety of the hundreds of drivers and crew members who will work along the road, Lowing said.

“We’ll put together a plan and a budget. Probably by the middle of November we’ll have a finalized plan of what the road will look like in terms of Covid planning and response,” he said.

How the shuttering of Ekati might affect the viability of building and maintaining the road wasn’t yet known, and it’s still cheaper to transport loads by road than by air, Lowing explained.

“The winter road is a vital link that helps provide critical supplies to the mine and we are actively planning our 2021 resupply program set to begin in February,” said a Diavik spokesperson.

De Beers spokesperson Terry Kruger said the multi-national mining company is also planning the 2021 winter road resupply program, but he offered no comment on the cost efficiency of the road.

Dominion Diamond Mines was not immediately available for comment.

There were 7,072 trips on the road in 2020, according to the Joint Venture’s 2020 Winter Road Operating Summary.

Construction will start on the southern section of the route in December, ramping up around Christmas.

The winter road generally is in operation for about two months, Lowing said.

Eighty-five per cent of the road is built on frozen lakes, which must freeze to a minimum of 10 inches thick before it can open to trucks.

The ice measured 27 inches thick on Jan. 29, 2020 and gradually increased until the end of February when it was 47 inches thick, the summary says.

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Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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