Fortune Minerals has signed a socio-economic agreement with the Northwest Territories governing its NICO mine project near Whatì.
The agreement sets out targets for local jobs, spending, education, and training as the proposed cobalt, bismuth, gold, and copper mine develops.
Last year, Fortune anticipated construction of the mine would begin in 2019 and last for two years, allowing commercial production in the early 2020s with a forecast mine life of around two decades.
Cobalt, in particular, is of interest to the North American market as a component in the rechargeable batteries used by electric vehicles and other, similar technologies.
The expected opening of the NICO mine is one of the main reasons the all-season road to Whatì from Highway 3 is being built.
“This agreement marks an important milestone for the NICO project as they continue on the path to becoming Canada’s first cobalt mine,” read a territorial government statement, though other mines in Canada have produced cobalt in the past.
The territory later revised its statement to call NICO the country’s first “primary cobalt mine.”
Socio-economic agreements, now common in the mining industry, are designed to ensure local communities benefit from mining operations.
The Government of the Northwest Territories announced the signing of NICO’s agreement to coincide with its cabinet ministers’ trip to the AME Roundup mineral exploration conference in Vancouver this week.
Listen to Cabin Radio’s interview with Wally Schumann about the Roundup conference in our Lunchtime News podcast or read the full transcript.
Under the terms of the new agreement, Fortune Minerals must:
- “make best efforts” to ensure at least 60 percent of its staff and contractors are NWT residents, and to ensure at least 50 percent of that number are Indigenous, while the mine is operational (the percentage is lower during construction);
- prioritize the hiring of Tłı̨chǫ, Yellowknives Dene, and North Slave Métis Alliance members;
- ensure 60 percent of spending on goods and services during mine operation goes to NWT businesses;
- help deliver literacy programs;
- promote women in trades and mining; and
- support a range of cultural preservation and health and wellness programs.
The territorial government acknowledged some of the targets set for NICO are lower than those found in other mines’ agreements.
As an example, the Ekati mine’s agreement ranges between a 62 percent and 72 percent NWT employment target, while Diavik’s 1999 socio-economic agreement contained a 66 percent figure for northern employment.
“With three mines already operating, the agreement needed to take into account the
limited size of the local workforce,” read a territorial government statement.
“For example, many who could be employed in positions available at the NICO project are likely already employed by the mines already operating.
“It is also worth noting that the targets are actually higher than others, specifically those at Gahcho Kué, because they anticipate the closing of Diavik Diamond Mine in the early 2020s.”
In a statement, Fortune Minerals boss Robin Goad said: “Formalizing our contribution to the livelihoods and quality of life of residents of the communities we operate is a key objective of our company.
“The NICO project will contribute energy- and eco-metals to support the growing green economy and enable the Northwest Territories to further capitalize on its significant mineral resource endowment.”
Goad has previously forecast NICO will create around 250 jobs at its mine site once built.
This is the fifth socio-economic agreement currently active in the NWT. The others are with the Ekati, Diavik, Gahcho Kué, and Snap Lake mines.
Ekati’s socio-economic agreement was the first to be signed, in 1996 – the same year Fortune Minerals discovered the NICO deposit.