Selwyn-Chihong Mining eyes upgrade to N.W.T. road to Yukon mine
'It’s our only viable access route into the mine site,' says Doug Reeve
A Chinese-owned company that's developing a Yukon lead-zinc mining project wants to spend between $35 million and $45 million upgrading a crucial N.W.T. access road to the mine.
Selwyn-Chihong Mining, a Canadian subsidiary of Yunnan Chihong Zinc and Germanium Co., is applying to the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board for permits that would allow the company to convert a narrow and windy access road cutting through multiple areas of the N.W.T. into a two-lane service road capable of handling regular and heavy truckloads during the mine's construction and operation.
"It's our only viable access route into the mine site," said Doug Reeve, Selwyn-Chihong's manager of permitting. "If we don't have that permitted, it will be very difficult, of course, to develop a mine site."
N.W.T. road, Yukon mine
The 79-kilometre gravel road was originally built in the late 1970s to access mineral deposits but fell into disrepair until Selwyn-Chihong spent around $13.5 million in 2014 to install bridges and convert the road into a single-lane all-season road.
The road starts at the proposed mine, located at Howard's Pass in the Yukon's Selwyn Mountains. It then travels south through the N.W.T.'s Sahtu and Dehcho regions and then through parts of the Nááts'ihch'oh and Nahanni national park reserves before connecting to the Nahanni Range Road in southeast Yukon. Trucks hauling lead and zinc concentrates from the Selwyn site will ultimately head south to port facilities at Stewart, B.C.
But in its first years, the access road will help supply the Selwyn site with construction materials and equipment.
"We can run a little bit of equipment up there as it is right now," said Reeve. "But it's not a structurally sound roadbed."
A road accessible to everyone?
Selwyn-Chihong says it's signed access agreements with the Tulita District Land Corporation, the Dehcho First Nations and Parks Canada, though it still needs to secure a Nahanni Park land lease with the federal government.
The company hopes to begin the upgrading work in the summer of 2017 and wrap up the project by the fall of 2018. A potential environmental assessment (EA) has been factored into that timeline, says Reeve.
"Ther are some groups that have said they'd like to see us go ahead without an EA, and others say it's likely it will. We have to sit back and wait, of course. It's not our choice.
"But we certainly have hopes to get through that process quickly, if it happens."
In its project description, the company says the road may provide additional opportunities for hunters and fishers and perhaps even serve as an alternate access route into the national parks.
But Reeve says the N.W.T.'s Department of Lands will ultimately decide if anyone besides the mining company can use the non-park portions of the road.
Selwyn-Chihong has yet to apply to Yukon regulators for the permits needed for the Selwyn project itself. But the company says the project is currently undergoing a feasibility study. It hopes to open the mine in 2022.