Highway construction on North Klondike highway. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

Highway construction on North Klondike highway. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

Yukon embarks on long and pricey list of road projects

The first project of the Yukon Resource Gateway Program has been selected, the Yukon government announced on Nov. 8.

Whitehorse-based Pelly Construction was awarded a $29.6 million contract for the Carmacks bypass project, the first of eleven projects that comprise the Resource Gateway program.

The budget for the entire gateway project is a whopping $469 million.

“The Yukon Resource Gateway Program is one of the most significant construction programs in the history of our territory,” said Nils Clarke, Yukon’s minister of Highways and Public Works (HPW).

The Carmacks bypass will see a new road built south of Carmacks to join the existing Freegold Road, plus construction of a new bridge across the Nordenskiold River. It will improve safety in the Carmacks townsite area and will improve access to the Mount Nansen site to assist with remediation efforts.

The Yukon Resource Gateway Program has three funding contributors: the Government of Canada up to $248 million; Government of Yukon up to $112 million; and the mining industry up to $109 million.

The projects so far

There is room for eleven projects under the Gateway program.

“We have signed six project agreements for seven components with affected Yukon First Nations to date, which means there are four remaining components that require Project Agreements,” a department spokesperson from HPW wrote in a September email.

Including the bypass, the other approved project agreements total an estimated construction cost of $251.5 million and include:

  • Silver Trail: The Silver Trail project includes rehabilitation of the Mayo River bridge, road reconstruction and spot repairs between Mayo and Keno City. The estimated capital construction cost is $63 million.
  • Nahanni Range Road Phase 1:This proposed project includes two bridge replacements and one bridge rehabilitation. The estimated capital construction cost is $17 million.
  • North Canol: This bridge rehabilitation and replacement project has an estimated construction cost of $16 million.
  • Robert Campbell Highway: This project includes road rehabilitation between Ross River and Faro. The estimated capital construction cost is $55 million.
  • Robert Campbell Highway: This project, which runs from km 114 to km 171, includes road reconstruction and sight line improvements. The estimated capital construction cost is $50 million.
  • Freegold Road: This project will see the replacement of three bridges, two of which are in an area where the traditional territories of Selkirk First Nation and Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation overlap. The estimated capital construction cost is $23.75 million.

A long time in the making

The original proposal to build roads as gateways into resource-rich areas of Yukon was first delivered to the Harper government in Ottawa by the Yukon Party in January 2016.

The application focused on three main properties said to be in advanced feasibility stages of development: Casino, Coffee Creek and the Selwyn project at Howard’s pass. It calculated the economic benefits that would accrue to both the Yukon, and to the rest of Canada once the mines were developed and the surrounding areas became accessible to other mining interests.

John Streicker, Yukon’s minister of Energy, Mines and Resources (EMR) admitted that some political realignment was needed to hone the agreement first crafted by conservative governments. He explained to the News how the federal government would not reprofile the funds to other projects, but that they managed to persuade Ottawa that the funding should not just cover roads to mines for economic benefits, but also to roads with community benefits which happened to align with mining interests.

Streicker used the example of Ross River and how through conversations with Ross River leadership, it became apparent that the main concern was improving the stretch of highway between Faro and Ross River — not for the mining industry, but for the community, “because it was the right thing to do.”

For the future

A HPW spokesperson said there are two industry components to this project that are still outstanding — the Indian River/Coffee Road and the Casino Road. The Yukon government has until 2030 to spend the money. Mining interests have not yet ponied up their possible contributions of up to $108 million.

In a news release, Western Copper and Gold’s CEO, Dr. Paul West-Sells said, “Construction on the Carmacks bypass is an important step to advancing the Casino project.”

His company recently received an investment of $25 million from Rio Tinto, a controversial global mining company who is assessing their opportunity for further investment or ownership of the gold and copper property in the Yukon.

Streicker said he is not sure if the government would embark on funding a road without full certainty of a viable mining operation, and seemed open to the possibility of leaving money on the table if projects weren’t approved or supported by affected First Nations.

HPW’s minister, Nils Clarke, clearly stated in the legislature Nov. 9 that “without the community development agreements and without meaningful participation from the impacted First Nations, these projects as they were signed in 2016 or 2017 aren’t going anywhere without an acceptable project agreement.”

Economic Development minister, Ranj Pillai, agreed with his colleagues and reminded that there is a requirement for mining companies to pay for part of any roads to mining properties. And he conceded that the completion of regional land plans will make things easier.

Last month the government tabled amendments to the Territorial Lands Act to create a new resource roads regulation. This, Streicker said, “is a game changer.”

— With files from Jackie Hong, Yukon News

Contact Lawrie Crawford at lawrie.crawford@yukon-news.com

Yukon Department of Highways and Public Works