There’s no denying the importance of the mining sector for the NWT’s economy, but at the same time this key industry has become completely dependent on a single commodity in recent times: Diamonds. Over the years, gold, lead, zinc, silver, tungsten, radium and many other minerals have been mined around the territory, but those days are currently in the rearview mirror. As the recent downturn has shown us, economic dependence on a single item plucked from the ground is never good – even something as lucrative as diamonds.
When prices for rough gems dropped a couple of years back and NWT mines were forced to trim operating costs, the territory has been suffering through the miners’ belt-tightening ever since. Despite the decline, diamond mining remains the dominant industry in the NWT.
“Resource projects, such as the diamond mines, provide the GNWT with a significant portion of corporate income tax, fuel tax, and property tax revenues and the projects’ employees provide payroll tax and personal income tax revenues,” said Andrew Livingstone, Senior GNWT Cabinet Communications Advisor. “Over the past three years, diamond mines contributed 41 per cent of the GNWT’s corporate income, fuel, property and payroll tax revenue.”
With plenty of known mineral deposits of varying types and sizes scattered around the territory you’d think breaking this dependence on diamonds would be simple enough, unfortunately the dearth of infrastructure throughout the NWT makes developing new mines extremely challenging due to exceedingly high costs and logistical barriers.
One proposed highway project on the verge of becoming a reality, however, has the potential to open up a new mining district that would help drive the territorial economy for years to come. If built, the Tłįchø All-Season Road (TASR) would be a 97-km two-lane gravel highway running from Behchoko to Whati and it would likely trigger the construction of Fortune Minerals’ polymetallic NICO mine, which is located about 50 km east of the proposed route.
“The Tłįchø Government and the community of Whati are fully supportive of this project,” said Nancy Zimmerman, GNWT Infrastructure Communications Manager. In fact the Tłįchø are full partners with the GNWT in the TASR and given the anticipated economic impact it’s easy to see why.
The Community Government of Whati’s Micro-Economic Analysis of the TASR anticipates 10 new jobs in Whati after construction in order to perform the daily maintenance and safety requirements on the road. During construction, the Department of Transportation thinks it will take up to 300 employees working in two-week rotations to build the road as well as another 100 during the development of the required 50-km access road linking the NICO mine with the TASR.
Direct employment from the mine once operational would range from 188 to 269 as it works through the open pit and underground stages of mining. Fortune anticipates that indirect and induced employment during the 21-year life of the mine will be 1,335 and 2,026 person years, respectively, and through all stages the company has committed to maximize Tłįchø employment in all employment areas.