Welcome to Ross River sign photographed on June 8, 2018. The Ross River Dena Council (RRDC) and Yukon government have reached a tentative agreement for work related to the Resource Gateway project. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)

Ross River Dena Council, YG reach agreement on Resource Gateway project

Agreement-in-principle covers paving of highway between Faro and Ross River, North Canol upgrades

The Ross River Dena Council (RRDC) and Yukon government have reached a tentative agreement that will see the paving of the Robert Campbell Highway between Ross River and Faro as well as upgrades to the North Canol.

The work is part of the larger Resource Gateway project, a multi-year, $360 million effort bankrolled by the federal government to improve road access to mineral-rich areas in southeast Yukon and the Klondike.

The governments announced the signing of the agreement-in-principle in a press release March 3.

It’s the third such agreement to be reached between the Yukon government and Yukon First Nation.

“Our community has been in need of improvements to the North Canol and paving for the Campbell Highway for many years,” RRDC Chief Jack Caesar said in the press release.

“We have some of Yukon’s largest prospective mineral and remediation projects but we had been the only community in Yukon without a paved highway. This important project will finally see our members have a safe road to drive to and from work, a road that helps ensure we are connected to opportunity.”

The agreement and project will “provide valuable capacity and economic opportunities to the community and is a tremendous step forward for reconciliation,” Yukon minister of energy, mines and resources (EMR) Ranj Pillai said in the same release.

Once finalized, the agreement will cover the paving of kilometre 354.9 to kilometre 414.4 of the Robert Campbell Highway as well as bridge repair, visibility improvements and other safety work on the North Canol.

The work is estimated to cost approximately $71 million.

Neither the highway paving nor the North Canol upgrades were part of the Yukon government’s original Resource Gateway proposal to the federal government. However, during a media availability from Toronto on March 3, Pillai said the Yukon government had “sat down with Canada and requested flexibility to use the money in other areas of high priority.”

“This particular portion of the project, we feel, is going to greatly help Ross River and the community and as well, some of the activity that’s happening in that area,” he said, noting that many people travel between Ross River and Faro for work. The proposed Kudz Ze Kayah mine off the Campbell and several major projects along the North Canol — the proposed Fireweed Zinc mine in MacMillan Pass, for example, and the Mactung project — would also benefit from improved road access, according to Pillai.

Separately, EMR spokesperson Jesse Devost told the News that the projects covered by the RRDC agreement would not take away money from other parts of the Resource Gateway due to the “flexibility” of the funding.

Pillai said he believed the work on the highway would begin this summer, while sampling work might begin on the North Canol with discussions still underway.

Stanley Noel, the CEO of RRDC’s development arm, Dena Nezzidi Corporation, said in an interview that the agreement and associated work will be a boon to citizens and the local economy.

“This is really great news for the community of Ross River and the Yukon in general,” he said of the agreement.

Besides the improvement in road infrastructure, Noel said there are three major benefits for locals: the Yukon government will offer three apprenticeships or job-shadowing opportunities every year to RRDC citizens or other Kaska; the Yukon government will offer three annual scholarships to RRDC citizens or other Kaska; and there will be “preferential contracting” for Dena Nezzidi Corporation.

The corporation owns, among other things, fuel supply company Tu Lidlini Petroleum and heavy equipment including excavators that it leases out for construction work.

“For us that’s really big news because it means … more certainty of important work for both leasing our equipment and seeing our fuel services and all of that supports the jobs that are already there or new jobs that come out of it,” he said.

Noel said he expects the apprenticeship positions will begin to be filled “as early as this summer,” and that the project would take at least two years, taking into account the seasonal nature of construction work.

The Yukon government has previously reached Resource Gateway-related agreements with Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation and Liard First Nation for the Carmacks bypass and Nahanni Range Road upgrade portions of the project, respectively.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com