Tibbitt to Contwoyto ice road on schedule despite warmer temperatures

The team that's building the winter road to Northwest Territories' diamond mines is confident the road will open Feb. 1, despite being thrown some extra hurdles this year.

Season expected to be one of the busiest on record with 8,000 loads slated for hauling

Snowcats plow snow off frozen Tibbitt Lake during construction of the Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road in 2010. (TCWR Joint Venture)

The team that's building the winter road to Northwest Territories' diamond mines is confident the road will open Feb.1, despite being thrown some extra hurdles this year.

The joint venture that builds the road is expecting more than 8,000 loads this year (300,000 metric tonnes of freight) for re-supply of mines and construction at Gahcho Kué, which would make it one of the busiest years on record. 

"There's no doubt we have seasonally warm temperatures that have affected how we progress through our construction phase for the winter road," said Ron Near, who oversees the construction and maintenance of the road for the Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road joint venture.

"Slower ice growth, more snow on lakes, lower water and more rocks visible that we haven't seen in a number of years, overflow on portages..."

Near says crews usually start at both ends of the 400-kilometre winter road and work toward the middle.

A Hagglund amphibious vehicle profile the ice thickness of a lake during construction of the Tibbitt to Contwoyto ice road in 2008. (TCWR Joint Venture)

"In a warmer year we have different ice thickness on different lakes," he said, "so that limits us on what equipment we can put on certain lakes. So we have to juggle equipment around and move it to areas we are able to work on.

"Once we get the ice required for bigger equipment, then the road will be joined from one end to the other."

The team took a number of steps to manipulate ice growth, such as getting crews in earlier to clear snow off the ice in mid-December. Snow acts as insulation, and clearing it away aids ice growth.

They added two extra flood teams and extra flood pumps, and also brought in some lighter equipment — such as amphibious vehicles and snowcats — to help clear snow off problem lakes.

The plan is to start with lighter loads until the ice reaches the ideal condition. The ice needs to be 70 centimetres thick to support light vehicle loads.

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