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Construction begins on winter road through Nahanni to zinc mine

A 2006 view of the Prairie Creek mine site - Canadian Zinc Corporation
A 2006 view of the Prairie Creek mine site. Photo: Canadian Zinc Corporation

NorZinc has received the permits needed to begin constructing the first phase of an all-season access road to the Prairie Creek mine project, which is currently only accessible by plane.

The work this year will be on updating the winter road, marking the first land access to the mine project in 40 years. The winter road was last used by the previous owner, Cadillac Explorations, in the late 1980s. The use of the winter road will allow NorZinc to do geotechnical studies that will contribute to the all-season road’s design in phase two of the road project.

While winter road goes ahead, the fate of the potential zinc, lead, and silver mine is unclear. In October, NorZinc agreed to sell itself to a private investment fund as its debts grew. The sale still needs to be ratified by shareholders.

Despite uncertainties, the company is plowing ahead with the winter road. On November 1, the company announced Parks Canada had approved the necessary management plans for the section of winter road within Nahanni National Park Reserve, while on October 19th the company announced the territorial government and the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board (MVLWB) had approved management plans for the section of winter road on territorial land.



Following territorial approval last month, NorZinc said it “made significant process” on the first 15 km of the winter road, also called the Pioneer Winter Road. With Parks Canada’s approval this month, they said construction will stay on track as the road enters the national park at kilometre 17.

While the mine is not in the national park, it is fully enclosed by it, and as such a large part of the access road passes through the park. In total, the road will stretch 170 km from the mine site to the Nahanni Butte access road.

NorZinc had hoped to build the road last winter but were delayed in getting regulatory approval. Regulators said the company was to blame, meanwhile, the company said delays were the regulator’s fault.

NorZinc has received all other regulatory permits needed to build the mine earlier this fall, and in theory, the mine could be operational by 2025-26.