Infrastructure minister Diane Archie in the Legislative Assembly.
The NWT government says construction began this week on a 6.7-kilometre stretch of all-season road south of Norman Wells.
The cost of the project has soared. What was initially a $20-million project covering 13 kilometres is now a $25.5-million contract to cover half the distance, the GNWT said on Tuesday.
Supplies and labour are more costly than they were when funding for the project was first announced in mid-2020, but the Prohibition Creek road has also struggled to overcome procurement problems.
A first attempt to get the project off the ground, late last year, was scrapped as “the lone bid received exceeded the project budget and was deemed unacceptable,” the GNWT states on a webpage about the road.
This time around, work on the opening 6.7-km stretch has been awarded to HRN Contracting, which the territory described as “a Norman Wells-based, Sahtu beneficiary-owned company.”
In the legislature last month, Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby accused the NWT government of “cronyism and corruption” in its awarding of the contract, saying the work had been handed to “a private company in Norman Wells … that supported a member of cabinet during the election.” That appeared to be a reference to Paulie Chinna, the MLA for the Sahtu region, who is the NWT’s housing minister.
Premier Caroline Cochrane, in response, said Nokleby’s allegations were unfounded and there had been “no improper consideration or favour given.”
Eventually, the NWT government hopes the Prohibition Creek road will form part of a much longer Mackenzie Valley Highway connecting the southern road network to Norman Wells and, eventually, to the Arctic coast.
“This project reflects the GNWT’s commitment to build and support local and northern capacity in the Sahtu region in advance of the future Mackenzie Valley Highway project,” the territory stated in a news release on Tuesday.
However, the Prohibition Creek project also reflects the difficulty the territorial government faces in finding the money and labour to get such a highway built.
In announcing its latest capital budget, the GNWT recently acknowledged that it cannot find enough workers to get all of the required infrastructure built each year – and even if it could, the territory is far short of the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to start large-scale work on the Mackenzie Valley Highway.
“Making strategic infrastructure investments that will create jobs, help with economic recovery, and stabilize the cost of living in the NWT is a priority for this government,” stated Diane Archie, the NWT’s infrastructure minister, on Tuesday.
“I am pleased that the Prohibition Creek access road project has reached this milestone and that construction will bring jobs and other economic opportunities to the Sahtu region.”