N.W.T. ups Cantung Mine security by $19M, payment timeline unclear

North American Tungsten will have to pay an additional $19 million in security for its struggling Cantung Mine, but how quickly it has to give that money to the N.W.T. government remains to be decided.

Owner North American Tungsten filed for protection from creditors last week

A drilling production stope at the Cantung Mine. N.W.T.'s Environment and Natural Resources Minister Michael Miltenberger has approved changes to the water licence including requiring a $19 million increase in the mine's security. (North American Tungsten)

North American Tungsten will have to pay an additional $19 million in security for its struggling Cantung mine, but how quickly it has to give that money to the N.W.T. government remains to be decided.

On Friday, Environment and Natural Resources Minister Michael Miltenberger approved changes to the water licence North American Tungsten needs to operate Cantung, located in the N.W.T.'s Dehcho region, near the Yukon border. Among those changes was the increase in the mine's security, money set aside by the company to pay for the eventual cleanup of the mine site.

The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board had recommended that, of the $19 million in additional security, the company should post the vast majority of it, $16 million, to the government within 90 days of Miltenberger's decision.

But in his approval letter, Miltenberger said there's nothing requiring him to accept the security within a specified timeframe, and that if it takes the company more than 90 days to post the security, "the board will be notified in advance."

The company, meanwhile, has lobbied for a more modest increase to its security.

Earlier this month the company laid off 80 Cantung workers. Last week it was given court protection from its creditors.

To what degree the 53-year-old, on-again-off-again Cantung mine has been of financial benefit to the N.W.T. has long been a matter of debate.

North American Tungsten has never signed a socio-economic monitoring agreement with the N.W.T. government, according to the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment. Under that kind of agreement — which the government does have with the owners of the diamond mines — the government monitors the level of local employment and business spending at a mine.

The mine is accessible only via a 300-kilometre road starting in Watson Lake, Yukon, which is home to several people who work at Cantung, according to the Watson Lake Chamber of Commerce. 

North American Tungsten has not responded to a request for a breakdown of where its Cantung Mine workers come from.

The company has never signed an impact benefit agreement with the Dehcho First Nations. In March, however, it signed such an agreement with the Nahanni Butte Dene Band, a member of the Dehcho First Nations.

One month later, the band wrote Miltenberger in support of the company's request for a smaller security increase.


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