The much-anticipated all-season road to Canadian Zinc's Prairie Creek mine passed its environmental assessment this week, more than five years after the Prairie Creek mine was approved in the heart of Nahanni National Park Reserve.

The Mackenzie Valley Review Board announced Tuesday it is recommending the project to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs for conditional approval.

This week's green light marks the end of a process that lasted more than three years. The nearby Nahanni Butte Dene Band grew impatient, and began construction on their own road to the mine.

However, the board's support is contingent on the implementation of 16 measures it says will prevent "significant adverse impacts on the environment."

Prairie Creek site tour

N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod (3rd from right) and other cabinet members from the time, with Dehcho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian (2nd from right) tour the Prairie Creek mine site in 2012. (Canadian Zinc Corp.)

Among those measures: a road adapted for permafrost conditions, along with ongoing permafrost monitoring; wildlife monitoring that incorporates traditional knowledge; and the creation of an independent technical panel to ensure the road's design protects people and the environment.

The company calls the board's decision "an important milestone" for the Prairie Creek project.

"Canadian Zinc is confident that the measures prescribed by the review board, many of which build on Canadian Zinc's commitments made during the EA [environmental assessment], can be satisfactorily addressed," said Alan Taylor, chief operating officer of Canadian Zinc. 

Longer transport season, less traffic

The 180 km all-season road would connect the Prairie Creek Mine to the Liard Highway near Nahanni Butte, N.W.T, with about half of the proposed road running through the Nahanni National Park Reserve.

Construction of the road is expected to take three years.

Canadian Zinc says an all-season road would extend the trucking season for the lead, zinc and silver mine, allowing the company to move supplies in, and mining concentrates out, throughout the year.

Canadian Zinc's Prairie Creek Mine road

About half of Canadian Zinc's 180 km all-weather road would cut through the Nahanni National Park Reserve. (Canadian Zinc)

The Prairie Creek Mine already has extensive infrastructure in place, including underground workings, a mill, a fleet of vehicles, three drill rigs, camp accommodation, and a kilometre-long gravel airstrip.

Canadian Zinc is currently negotiating an agreement for co-management and community monitoring of the all-season road with the Nahanni Butte Dene Band. It will also need a land use permit before construction can begin.

As for the mine itself, it received approval from the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs in 2012, and a final licence for operation in Sept. 2013.

The company is looking to finalize its feasibility study this year, which it hopes to use to secure financing for the construction and development of the mine.