Canadian Arctic Resource Committee
Briefing Note: Bathurst Inlet Port and Road Project (BIPAR)
and impacts on species in the Slave
Geological Province (SGP)
(NWT and Nunavut)
Background on SGP
a) Intro to Region- Land, Wildlife and Communities
b) Mining in the Region
c) Roads in the Region
Slave Geological Province
a) A History of Studies
b) Political Context
c) Need for the Road
d) Current Proposals
e) Estimated Costs
f) Environmental Scoping
I) Background on SGP
a) Intro to Region: Land, Wildlife and Communities:
- The Slave Geological Province (SGP) is an
area of 190 000 square Km ranging from Great Slave Lake in the NWT to the
Arctic Coast in Nunavut.
- SGP contains 2 major ecozones- 1) Taiga
Shield and 2) Southern Arctic ecozones.
It is also home to the (normally) 350 000 strong Bathurst Caribou
Herd, moose, muskox, black and grizzly bears, small mammals, birds,
waterfowl and various species of fish.
There are some indications that the Bathurst herd may be in
decline—its current numbers are thought to be only 260,00--but a full
census is scheduled for 2003.
- SGP is home to several Aboriginal peoples:
In Nunavut- the Inuit and in the NWT- the Dene and Metis as represented by
Dogrib Treaty 11 Tribal Council, the North Slave Metis Alliance, and Akaitcho
Treaty 8 Tribal Council. In
Nunavut, land claims have been resolved and the Inuit have extensive
surface and subsurface interests and rights. In the NWT, the Dogribs now have an initialled land claims
and self-government agreement.
Akaitcho Treaty 8 are in negotiations over treaty entitlement and
self-government and the North Slave Metis are not yet at the table. The federal crown owns most of the land
and particularly subsurface mineral rights in the SGP, both in the NWT and
- The following communities fall within or
around the SGP: Yellowknife, Rae-Edzo, Wha Ti (Lac la Martre), Rae Lakes
(Gameti), Wekweti (Snare Lake), Dettah, Lutsel K’e, Kugluktuk, Cambridge
Bay, Umingmaktok, and Bathurst Inlet.
All except Yellowknife are primarily Aboriginal communities (Dene,
Inuit and Metis), characterized by “mixed economies,” blending wage
employment, resource harvesting, arts and crafts and government
transfers. Unemployment rates
(except in Yellowknife) are high.
b) Mining in the Region:
- In 1997 the Fraser Institute ranked the NWT
as having the greatest mineral potential of all provinces and territories
in Canada. The SGP is the most
mineral rich area in the NWT and Nunavut, with significant gold, diamond
and base metal deposits. 20% of Canadian
mineral exploration currently occurs within the NWT, mostly within the
- Diamonds were discovered in the SGP in 1991
leading to one of the largest staking rushes in Canadian history. For example, exploration expenditures
between 1992 and 1993 jumped from $43 million to $101 million.
- Currently, Ekati diamond mine is
operational, Diavik’s diamond mine will soon be producing, and the Lupin
gold mine in Nunavut reopened operations in 2000. A base metal deposit near Izok Lake is
under serious consideration for development pending regulatory decisions
on related infrastructure (i.e. the Bathurst Inlet Port and Road
project). Another diamond project
at Snap Lake, owned by DeBeers is the subject of an environmental
assessment by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board. The
Jericho project is undergoing an environmental assessment by the Nunavut
Impact Review Board. The
Doris-Hinge project in the Hope Bay gold belt, just north of the calving
grounds of the Bathurst herd, is now the subject of a part 5 review by the
Nunavut Impact Review Board. SGP
has supported gold mines near Yellowknife in the past and the Tundra and
Salmita mines (See appendix # 1).
- There are approximately 30 mining projects
in the SGP at various stages of development. Most are in the exploration and feasibility study
stages. Projects in these stages
take approximately 5-10 years to reach production if they go ahead.
- According to the GNWT, existing and
proposed NWT diamond mines and oil and gas developments are expected to
contribute over $65 billion dollars to the national GDP. This will create over 270 000 person
years of employment and generate $17 billion in royalties and taxes to
Canada, of which 85% flow to the federal government and 15% will go to the
territorial government. The GNWT
has every reason to provide the most optimistic statistics possible in its
attempts to secure federal infrastructure funds to promote further
non-renewable resource development.
c) Roads in the Region:
- Currently the SGP has 200 km of all weather
roads and 750 km of winter roads.
Most but not all of the communities in the NWT portion of SGP are
linked by highway or by winter roads at least 3 months of the year. In Nunavut transportation is primarily
by plane and supplies are brought in by sealift.
- Each year the Lupin Gold mine, operated by
Echo Bay Mines constructs a winter road from North of Yellowknife
two-thirds of the way to the Arctic coast to transport their equipment and
resupply the mine. Ekati and Diavik
mines build extensions off of this road and share the costs as do other
exploration projects. The road is
approximately 500 km long and provides access for a maximum of 3 months
per year. The license for the
Lupin Winter Road is granted by the Department of Indian and Northern
Affairs. The road has never been
subjected to any form of environmental assessment and the current
approvals are up for renewal in 2003.
- All other major highways and winter roads
are under the jurisdiction of Government of the NWT (GNWT) Department of
Transport (DOT). These roads link
communities and provide transport to the south.
- Aside from the Lupin Winter Road there are
no all-weather roads in Nunavut in the SGP. Some winter roads have been pushed through for various
exploration projects including the Ulu gold deposit north of the Lupin
- The existing road system was built by the
federal government. Transfer of
responsibility and funding to the GNWT for road maintenance and capital
upgrades was completed by 1990.
The federal government retains responsibility for constructing new
roads in the NWT and Nunavut (although they have not constructed any since
the transfer of responsibility).
- The GNWT’s Department of Transport capital
budget has generally been between $30 and $42 million/ year in the late
1990’s of which less than half is allocated to highways. Obviously, the GNWT and Government of
Nunavut cannot afford to build new highways without federal and private
Slave Geological Province Transportation Corridor
a) A History of “Studies”
A transportation corridor
through the SGP was first suggested in 1955 by the NWT’s Commissioner, R.
In the late 1970’s DIAND
undertook an analysis of future transportation in the region with an emphasis
on promoting mining development.
In 1989 the Government of the
NWT Department of Transport (DOT) was created.
DOT developed a long-term Transportation Strategy in 1990 that included
building an Arctic Coast transportation corridor through the Slave Geological Province. The SGP transportation corridor has been
high on the GNWT’s agenda ever since, and was included as a priority in the
1994 Transportation Strategy update.
In 1994 GNWT spent $1.2
million to study the potential of roads through the SGP. In 1995 DOT produced a report on potential
economic scenarios and the benefits of an all-weather road to the Arctic Coast.
As part of the 1998 Highway
Strategy, the GNWT DOT was allocated $2 million dollars to conduct preliminary
studies on 4 priority road projects, including the SGP Transportation
Corridor. Studies were conducted in the
SGP on Need/Feasibility, Mapping and Route Analysis, Cost Estimates, and
Preliminary Environmental Scoping.
Reports were produced in 1999. A
fifth study on economic impact and benefit cost analysis for the SGP was
undertaken in 2000.
As part of a push for
“stakeholder involvement” in 1998 the GNWT gave preliminary planning workshops
and set up a SGP Transportation Corridor Advisory Committee. Committee representatives include NWT
business organizations, NWT and Nunavut Aboriginal groups including the
Kitikmeot Corporation (Charlie Lyall), the Nunavut Government, and Ecology
In Nunavut, the BIPAR project
is being spearheaded by the Bathurst Inlet Port and Road Joint Venture, owned
by the Kitikmeot Corporation (50%) and Nuna Logistics Corporation (50%) which
in turn is owned by the Kitikmeot Corporation (25.5%), Nunasi Corporation
(25.5%) and 49% by the managers.
Together with the Government of Nunavut and Nuna Logistics, they form
the Project Technical Committee which is applying for funding, conducting
feasibility studies and promoting the idea.
The total capital cost of the project is very conservatively estimated
at about $220 million while previous studies have suggested costs of over a
$500 million. Former partner Inmet
Mining Corporation (owners of the Izok Lake base metal mine) pulled out of the
deal in early 2003, citing falling base metal prices.
In 2001 INAC (Indian and
Northern Affairs) provided $3.008 million to the Kitikmeot Inuit Association
(KIA) to conduct a BIPAR feasibility study. $1.839 million was to be provided
in first year and $1.169 million over the 3 remaining years. Six million dollars in total was put up by
the Kititmeot Corporation (the business arm of the KIA), territorial and
federal government departments, Inmet, BHP and Diavik to study the Bathurst
Inlet project. A preliminary project
description was submitted by the Joint Venture to the Nunavut Impact Review
Board in April 2002. The Board has
suggested a Part 5, NIRB only review of this project but the final decision is
up the DIAND Minister. The GNWT,
several Aboriginal communities, MVEIRB, CARC and WWF have all stongly urged
that a Part 6, federal environmental assessment panel, be used.
b) Political Context
There are considerable
financial and engineering impediments to building a highway through the Slave
Geological Province, including the enormous cost, and technical difficulty of
crossing permafrost, many large lakes (especially Contwoyto Lake) and rivers,
and the topography of the rocky region.
This is presumably why the project has consistently been shelved by the
federal government. The GNWT DOT has
ardently supported this transportation corridor since its creation. The Department of Transport has responded to
federal disinterest by commissioning studies and reports to keep the idea
alive. However, with increased
exploration and mining activity in the region, it is becoming more likely that
the federal government will fund such a mega-project.
There are also significant social and environmental concerns
to the SGP transportation corridor, such as unresolved land claims and threats
to the Bathurst caribou herd, not to mention the corridor’s potential to
increase mining operations. These are
probably not the main reasons the federal government has not funded the
Since the 1999 creation of
Nunavut the SGP is divided between the two territories. The road as currently configured ends close
to the border between them, but some traffic would flow both ways. Should the BIPAR proceed, it would likely
become the main resupply route for the mines and communities in the area,
disrupting existing resupply business run from the NWT.
c) Need for the Road?
- According to the 1999 need/ feasibility
study of BIPAR by Arthur Anderson, there is no short term need for an
all-weather road, a winter road being sufficient for diamond and gold
mining purposes. They did identify
a long-term need assuming further developments take place.
- Alternatives that have been suggested
and/or studied in the past include maintaining winter roads to access mine
sites, and a train route. A
relatively short extension of the current all-weather road northeast of Yellowknife
has also been suggested as a means to provide a longer life to the
seasonal winter road to the north.
Climate change appears to be shortening the window for operation of
the winter road to Lupin. The effect
of future climate change on the operation of all-weather roads is unknown.
- Diamond and gold mines are less reliant
upon roads and ports than base metal mines because of the smaller quantity
of goods extracted. Thus while an
all- weather road would be a boost to the diamond mines, it is not a
necessity, while the base metal mine at Izok Lake depends upon a port and
- An all-weather road may suddenly make many
mineral deposits economical, leading to uncontrolled levels of development
and numerous branch roads as new mines are created.
- The majority of road needs are for fuel supply
to power the mines. This energy
comes from both the north and south.
d) Current Proposals
- There are currently two proposals to the
federal government for a road and port through the SGP, one from Joint
Venture for the Nunavut end of the Project and one from the GNWT as part
of a larger highway funding proposal for the NWT.
- The Bathurst Inlet Port and Road Joint
Venture proposal is to build a port at Bathurst Inlet and a route down the
east of Contwoyto Lake to the Nunavut border. A major challenge would be crossing Contwoyto Lake, which
would likely be by ice road in the winter and barge in the summer. **This
portion of the road was recently dropped from the proposal.
- GNWT proposal to Corridors for Canada
(federal government) was submitted in May of 2002. It attempts to make the case for
federal funding for highway developments in the Mackenzie Valley and
SGP. The GNWT rationalizes the
benefits as increased mineral activity and revenues in the SGP and opening
the way for an oil and gas pipeline in the Mackenzie. They also promote the project as a
“vision of Canada joined from coast to coast to coast”. In the SGP, the proposal asks for $133
million of federal funding for a Deh Cho Bridge, paving the Yellowknife
highway and developing the Ingraham Trail. Paving the Yellowknife highway would be a start towards
extending a transportation corridor north along mining resupply
routes. This funding proposal
would be matched by $67 million of
GNWT funding and $43 million of private funding.
- The GNWT strategy was to build the road to
Nunavut in stages, hopefully subsidizing some of the costs by implementing
a commercial toll once the road is build.
This reflects the tight funding reality. The toll may not be a realistic strategy as legislation on a
toll was dropped in 2002. The GNWT
is considering it will be more economical to build from the north south
rather than visa versa as the need arises over the long term. This assumes
the BIPAR will go ahead.
- The Nunavut Technical committee feasibility
study indicates that they hope to make the Nunavut end of the project
financially viably with a Private/ Public partnership. The Government of Nunavut has
approached the federal government for infrastructure funding.
- There are numerous possible routings for
the SGP corridor highway. They all
extend to Bathurst Inlet.
e) Estimated Costs:
Estimated costs of a SGP
highway corridor from Great Slave Lake north of Yellowknife to Bathurst Inlet
on the Arctic Coast are between $380 and $600 million for approximately 850 km
of road, with higher estimates more likely.
These estimates do not take into consideration land acquisition costs or
royalties paid to Aboriginal landowners. Land acquisition costs are likely to
be minimal as most of the route will be on federal Crown lands. There may be some minor costs associated
with access to Aboriginal-owned surface lands.
No new estimates of cost were made public with the alteration of the
project to reduce the length of the road.
Recent estimates (by UMA
engineering Ltd.) state that the portion of road between Bathurst Inlet to the
Southern end of Contwoyto Lake near Lupin would cost approximately $180 million
for about 290 km of road (some studies say 235 km and others say 290 km- this
depends upon the exact route). This is
Costs per km are estimated at
between $500,000 and $550,000.
Road maintenance costs are
estimated at $11 million/ year for the entire (Bathurst to NWT) route.
Cost estimates to construct
the Bathurst deep sea port are approximately $50 million.
Port maintenance costs are
estimated at $3 million/ year.
Among DIAND, the NWT
government, the Nunavut government and interested mines, almost $10 million has
already been spent on studying the BIPAR idea.
This does not include projects such as hydographic mapping of the area,
which are important pre-requisites for shipping connected to mine resupply and
concentrate transport and development.
For example, $2.7 million was spent on completing hydrographic surveys
of the Coronation Gulf between 1994 and 1998 by the NWT and federal governments
with private partnerships.
f) Environmental Scoping
- As part of the GNWT’s 1998 highway strategy
an environmental scoping study was conducted for the corridor. The findings raise important concerns.
- The NWT communities of Rae/Edzo,
Yellowknife, Dettah/N’dilo, Lutsel K’e Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk, Bathurst
Inlet and Umingmaktok were consulted.
Treaty 11 Chiefs were consulted and said community visits to
Wekweti, Snare Lake and Wha Ti were not necessary.
- The purpose of scoping was to identify
valued ecosystems components (VEC) and valued social components (VSC) that
should provide a focus for environmental assessment should the project go
- Communities and ‘Stakeholders’ raised
significant environmental and social concerns:
- There was no consensus on why or if a road
should be developed
- Need for long term stable economic
opportunities, not boom and bust cycles
- Need for road to serve community interests
above mining interests- need to link communities to a road- need to
reduce cost of living as first priority
- Inuit and Dene must control, own and
operate developments in their lands and must benefit from it (in NWT in
conjunction with government.)
- Concerns that all land claims along
corridor be settled prior to development
- Need for public involvement throughout
- Concern for Bathurst Caribou herd was the
single uniting concern, especially for caribou migration and calving,
need for caribou management board in advance of any development
- Concern of effects of shipping in Bathurst
Inlet upon marine life.
- Debate over whether non-renewable resource
development is the answer to economic development needs - some suggested
looking at alternative forms of economic development
- No agreement on routing- some suggestions
should go to Kugluktuk instead of Bathurst, debate over whether should go
from Rae or Yellowknife, debate on whether should be built from the north
- Concerns for irrevocable loss of resource
- Concerns for changes to harvesting
practices and increased access by outsiders
- Need to protect land/ water/ wildlife from
- Need to consider effects of global warming
and air quality/ emissions
- Concerns and benefits of potential
- Concerns regarding social and cultural
changes to existing way of life
Environmental Scoping concluded:
consultations needed to address issues of need and purpose of the road,
location of port and corridor, and concerns regarding Bathurst caribou herd
Need for more Baseline Data
Significant amount of
additional data would be needed for Cumulative Effects Assessment
The report cited the
following regulatory and environmental reviews that might be required:
Federal legislation (Canadian
Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA), and regulations and the Mackenzie Valley
Resource Management Act (MVRMA)
processes established in each territory (NWT) and review under Nunavut Land
Claim Settlement Act (NLCSA)
Review by a joint panel
The report indicates it is
likely for an environmental assessment to take at least 5 years.