Tlicho road gets green light from review board

If built, the 95-kilometre road will connect the tiny Tlicho community of Whati to Highway 3.

Board says significant environmental impacts can be mitigated if 23 measures adopted

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)

The proposed Tlicho all-season road has cleared a big hurdle, receiving conditional approval from the Mackenzie Valley Review Board.

The board released its decision late Thursday, after a two-year environmental assessment. If built, the 95-kilometre road will connect the tiny Tlicho community of Whati, N.W.T. to Highway 3. Whati, roughly 170 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife, is currently a fly-in community except for the months it is accessible by winter road.

In its report of environmental assessment, the board stated the road as proposed is likely to cause significant environmental impacts. But if 23 recommended measures are followed, those impacts can be reduced to an acceptable level, the board said.

The board's recommended measures include:

  • Tracking and managing the changes the road causes to the well-being of people in Whati, including harmful behaviours related to increased access to alcohol and drugs.
  • Finalizing range plans to protect both boreal and barrenland caribou.
  • Requiring policies that increase the safety of young women in work camps and communities.
  • Establishing a working group to help with the monitoring, mitigation and management of the road's impacts.

Good news for NICO project

The conditional approval is good news for Fortune Minerals, which is trying to develop the NICO project. The gold, copper, bismuth and cobalt exploration project is located 50 kilometres north of Whati. Fortune plans to build a spur road to the Tlicho road to ship concentrated ore south for processing.

The company is currently trying to raise the estimated $600 million it will take to turn NICO into a mine.

In January, the federal government conditionally agreed to pay up to 25 per cent of the estimated $150-million cost of building the Tlicho all-season road. The territorial government has decided to pursue the project as a public-private partnership — a kind of no-money-down approach to building new infrastructure.

Last September it identified three multi-national joint ventures to compete for a contract to design, build and maintain the road.The joint venture that wins the contract will have to come up with the remaining money for the project after the federal contribution.

The private partners will then design, build, operate and maintain the road for about 29 years.

The territorial government is using the same public-private, or P3, approach to build a new territorial hospital in Yellowknife.

In January, one of the partners in the consortium that won the contract to build and maintain the hospital filed for creditor protection. The territorial government says the partners in the consortium, not taxpayers, are responsible for any problems or extra costs from this move.