The Wek'èezhìi Land and Water Board has recommended Fortune Minerals' gold, cobalt, bismuth and copper project should be approved.

The Nico project still has to be finalized by N.W.T. Environment and Natural Resources Minister Michael Miltenberger, but the land and water board's approval is a big step ahead.

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Robin Goad, CEO of Fortune Minerals, speaks to reporters recently in Saskatoon. He says the Nico project near Whati, N.W.T., would produce a cobalt sulfate which is in demand by the rechargeable battery industry. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

Fortune Minerals wants the project located 150 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife to become a producing mine in about three years.

The metals the company wants to mine would have to be shipped out of the territory to be processed into other products and chemicals, and used to manufacture things as varied as batteries for electric cars, cosmetics, paints and circuit boards.

"We're going to produce a cobalt sulfate which is required for the rechargeable battery industry," said Robin Goad, president and CEO of Fortune Minerals.

"I think we're seeing tremendous improvement in the market for rechargeable batteries. Notably Tesla, a manufacturer of electric cars, has announced they're going to build a giga-factory, a $5 billion facility in the southwest United States that's going to require the chemical we produce from the Nico project."

There are a couple of other components for the project that still need to be worked out. The mine requires an all-weather road to truck concentrates to the railhead at Hay River. That would be a spur off another all-weather road that the Tlicho and territorial governments are talking about building from Behchoko to Whati.

They plan to have an application ready this fall.

"At that point the Tlicho govenrnment and the GNWT would have to sit down and decide if they want to go ahead with the project," said Michael Conway, regional superintendent for the N.W.T. Department of Transportation.

Another challenge is that Fortune Minerals needs a zoning change to build a processing plant on land it owns just north of Saskatoon. The company is encountering a lot of resistance from residents there who are concerned about chemicals contaminating their land and water.