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Environment

De Beers looks to reroute Gahcho Kué winter road


De Beers Canada is asking regulators for permission to reroute a branch of the ice road that serves its NWT diamond mine.

The mining company argues a new route to its Gahcho Kué mine will cut down on travel time and have a lesser impact on the surrounding environment.

The proposed new route crosses Lake of the Enemy, to the south of the existing route. It cuts out a 60-km stretch of winter road and replaces it with a 34-km shortcut, removing 52 km from the round trip between Yellowknife and Gahcho Kué.

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If approved, the shortcut wouldn’t be used to ship goods until the 2022 ice road season.

A graphic prepared by De Beers shows the main Tibbitt-Contwoyto winter road (in black, top left), the existing northern route to Gahcho Kué (green), and the proposed new southern route (yellow).

In regulatory filings, De Beers argues the new route will be both safer for staff (because of the decreased time and distance on the road) and better for the environment, as more of the route will cross frozen lake ice rather than rough terrain.

The company says fuel spills, for example, are “much less likely on a well-managed ice surface and easier to remediate than on a rough overland
portage.”

Driving across Lake of the Enemy will replace a network of smaller portages farther north, which De Beers says will reduce the road’s footprint, lessen its impact on vegetation and wildlife, and cost less to engineer each year.

De Beers has been consulting nearby Indigenous governments about the change since the summer.

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At the moment, about a fifth of each year’s trips on the ice road north of Yellowknife are to and from Gahcho Kué.

Almost half of the road’s traffic is freight heading to the neighbouring Diavik mine. Traffic to the third mine, Ekati, ordinarily accounts for around 30 percent of the annual total.

Gahcho Kué, which opened in 2016, is expected to remain operational until 2030.

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