Tlicho, federal, N.W.T. gov'ts agree to conditions for all-season road to Whati

An all-season road to the fly-in community of Whati, N.W.T. is one step closer to getting built, after the Tlicho, federal and territorial governments agreed to nearly two dozen measures to reduce negative effects it could have on the community, wildlife and the environment.

Recommendations from environmental assessment were adopted with modifications to provisions about caribou

An all-season road to the fly-in community of Whati, N.W.T. is one step closer to getting built.

The Tlicho, federal and territorial governments announced last week that they agree to nearly two dozen measures to reduce negative effects the proposed road could have on the community, wildlife and the environment.

Now the proposed, 97-kilometre Tlicho All-Season Road from southwest of Behchoko up to Whati will move ahead to the permitting stage.

Chief Alfonz Nitsiza of Whati said a year-round road would bring big changes to the community.

"Most of the change will be a positive," he said.

The Tlicho all-season road (TASR) would connect Whati to Highway 3, year-round. Right now, the smaller Tlicho communities are only accessible by air and winter road (in blue). (Government of the Northwest Territories)

Nitsiza said the road will allow for a better supply of food, cheaper travel to and from Whati, and new job opportunities.

But the road could have downsides as well.

In an environmental assessment released in March, the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board said the proposed road could have "significant adverse impacts" on the community, wildlife and the environment.

The review board recommended 23 measures to reduce harms related to easier access to drugs and alcohol, traffic collisions, and disruption to the habitat of boreal caribou. 

Governments agree to measures, with changes

The federal, territorial and Tlicho governments have agreed to the measures, but not exactly as they were initially written.

Notably, the federal and territorial governments revised recommendations for monitoring and hunting of boreal caribou.

In the environmental assessment, the review board said a road through the caribou habitat will likely result in a rise in hunting.

Whati Chief Alfonz Nitsiza says that a year-round road would bring big changes to his community, most of them positive. (Mark Rendell/CBC)

It recommended a temporary no-hunting corridor be established before the road is built to help conserve the boreal caribou, which is considered at-risk in the Northwest Territories.

The no-hunting zone would apply to non-Indigenous hunters and would stay in place until the a strategy is implemented to conserve the caribou.

But the governments rejected this provision, rewriting it to say they will determine sustainable hunting levels.

The revision says that if there is over-hunting, the territorial and Tlicho governments will work together on measures to keep harvesting within sustainable levels. This could include a no-hunting corridor along the road.

"Right now everybody can hunt anywhere, practically," said Nitsiza. "That's why we are working with the government and we are part of the co-management to ensure that the hunting [is] done properly."   

Bill Enge, president of the North Slave Métis Alliance, said he is "disappointed" by the decision not to limit caribou hunting as a condition of the road's construction.

The North Slave Métis were consulted by the territory on the road and expressed their concerns about the caribou population.

"When it comes to who has the first right to harvest wildlife, the first order goes to the Aboriginal peoples who have relied on the wildlife for thousands of years, and in the case of the Métis, for hundreds of years," said Enge.

The review board recommended a no-hunting corridor be established to help conserve at-risk boreal caribou, but that recommendation was rejected by government. (The Associated Press)

He said the government is "wrong-headed" to allow "open season on the boreal caribou by both non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal harvesters."

On Thursday, Robin Goad, the president and CEO of Fortune Minerals, whose NICO cobalt, gold, bismuth and copper project is 50 km north of Whati, applauded the territory's progress on the road.

In a statement, Goad said the road is "an important enabler for the NICO Project and a catalyst for other exploration, mining and hydro opportunities on Tłı̨chǫ lands in this highly prospective geological area."

The road will be built by the Northwest Territories government, in partnership with the federal government and the private sector.

The estimated costs and a timeline for construction have yet to be determined.

Infrastructure minister Wally Schumann did not respond to a request for an interview on Wednesday, but in a statement Oct. 26, Schumann said he was "very pleased" to see the road moving ahead.

"Not only will this project help provide jobs and fosters skills and capacity building for all northerners, especially in the Tłı̨chǫ region, but it is also another step forward for this government in fulfilling our mandate commitment to secure funding and advance planning and construction of transportation projects," he wrote.