NWT government plans to build a road north of Wrigley have stalled for so long that an environmental regulator is effectively closing the file.
The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board says a proposed road from Wrigley to the Mount Gaudet quarry hasn’t advanced since “an indefinite extension to conduct further engagement” was granted in late 2020.
“It is now approaching two years since the extension has been granted and the board has not received from the applicant any responses to submissions from the public review,” Sean Joseph, a regulatory specialist for the land and water board, wrote in an August 31 letter.
“Consequently, these applications will not be processed any further and are now considered withdrawn.”
The road has been in development since 2019.
The territorial government has framed the project as a “capacity-building” venture for the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation. A two-lane all-season gravel road would replace an existing winter road that runs to the Mount Gaudet quarry, which would be the source of the material used.
A spokesperson from the Department of Infrastructure said building the 15-km Mount Gaudet road would provide skills that can be used later to construct the Mackenzie Valley Highway, a near billion-dollar all-season road from Wrigley to Norman Wells that the NWT hopes will be federally funded.
But some members of the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation are irked by that premise.
“We are looking seriously at the proposal,” says Lloyd Moses, Chief of the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation. “But it’s frustrating to see the feds give [the GNWT] money to run the project, which will allow them to invest in equipment and infrastructure – that will remain theirs – and fund contractors from outside the community.”
The road would run through a proposed conservation zone named Pehdzéh Kı ̨Ndeh. Ownership of that land and its resources remains uncertain and land claims are unsettled. Community members said the presumption that the GNWT owns the quarry was also concerning.
“At one point, the GNWT told me I was stealing gravel from them, but they don’t mind using it for all their projects,” Moses said.
Moses also worries about water contamination.
While a winter road already exists between Wrigley and Mount Gaudet, the proposed all-season road would cross several watercourses in traditional land-use areas.
Moses said the community is in talks with the territory to ensure these water bodies will be protected during and after construction.
Those concerns would be a moot point without the required permits and approvals from the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board.
In a statement to Cabin Radio, the territorial government suggested it still intends forging ahead with the project and believes it can talk to the regulator about the apparent decision made in its last letter.
“The Mount Gaudet Access Road project remains a priority project for the GNWT,” the Department of Infrastructure stated.
“[We are] currently working with the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation toward the establishment of a memorandum of understanding for collaboration on the Mackenzie Valley Highway project.
“Last week, the GNWT was notified by the MVLWB of a board decision to withdraw the Mount Gaudet Access Road applications. The GNWT is currently discussing this matter with the MVLWB regarding this important community capacity-building project.”