Controversial Mactung road withdrawn

North American Tungsten has withdrawn its proposal to build a new road to its Mactung mine site through the Yukon from Ross River.

North American Tungsten has withdrawn its proposal to build a new road to its Mactung mine site through the Yukon from Ross River.

Instead, the company will use the existing spur road that extends off the North Canol Road and cuts through the N.W.T. for about eight kilometres.

CEO Steve Leahy said the decision to kill plans for a new road was made for two reasons: feedback from the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board and a streamlining of the N.W.T.‘s regulatory process.

“When we initially submitted our proposal, we had a new road that avoided using the existing spur road in the N.W.T. because of regulatory entanglements,” Leahy said.

“Years ago there was a significant difference because of the complexity between Ottawa and Yellowknife. Ottawa had ultimate control in the N.W.T., whereas the Yukon had already gone through devolution, and essentially controlled its own resources. But now N.W.T. is moving quickly towards devolution, and I think there is a different attitude among the regulators that is more hands-on and local. It’s way better, in my opinion,” Leahy said.

Stephen Mills, chair of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, said he’s happy to see North American Tungsten use an existing road instead of cutting a new one through the Yukon, which would have had significant environmental impacts.

“I think it’s a very positive decision that North American Tungsten has chosen to remove this very contentious new road from their proposal,” said Mills.

“I think the message was loud and clear to everyone that the proposed road was not one that was favoured by the First Nations and the communities, especially with an existing road already there,” he said.

Mactung straddles the Yukon/N.W.T. border outside of Ross River. It is touted as one of the largest tungsten deposits in the world, and seven per cent of it sits in the N.W.T. The mine’s infrastructure will be contained on the Yukon side of the border, but because impacts will be felt in both territories, Mills said that YESAB will work closely with the Mackenzie Valley review board to assess the road and the impacts of the proposed mine.

Another big regulatory concern has to do with the company’s water treatment plans at Mactung. Questions now being asked include, “‘How do you deal with potential access to water at the site, should you have climate events or precipitation events (like heavy rainfall or snow melting)? Do they have a reasonable amount of storage capacity that they expect for those events?’” Mills said.

North American Tungsten is now putting the finishing touches on a water treatment plant at its Cantung mine. If the plant works as planned, it will reclaim water from their tailings ponds and redirect some of it to the mill to prevent waste, while discharging clean water back into the nearby river. The same type of treatment system is planned at Mactung.

Mactung’s assessment work is still a few months away from completion. Mills said it’s now up to the company to provide answers on their plans to manage water and waste at the mine.

Contact Jesse Winter at