Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Northwest Territories Seeks Road to Open Riches, Maybe Trouble

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Northwest Territories Seeks Road to Open Riches, Maybe Trouble

Article excerpt

This vast, harsh territory covering one-third of Canada is Ottawa's poor relation: isolated, underpopulated and existing on federal handouts.

There are riches in the territories - gold, diamonds, copper, lead, silver and zinc - but also temperatures of minus 40 degrees or worse and 10 months of winter. The dependence on air transport for moving goods makes mining difficult and costly.

Nellie Cournoyea and her territorial government want to change all that by slashing a 550-mile road across the central Arctic from Yellowknife to the coast at Coronation Gulf. That would open a huge new area for development, but also raise environmental questions.

"There is a clear realization that jobs and the economy are priority No. 1 in the 1990s," said John Todd, the territorial minister of nearly everything, including transportation, economic development and tourism.

The Northwest Territories has only 58,000 people, most of them Indians, in 1.3 million square miles. Unemployment is estimated at more than 16 percent, compared with 11.2 percent nationally. Half of the jobs that exist are in government, and most of the budget comes from Ottawa, the federal capital.

One gold mine is operating in the region between Yellowknife and the sea, another is ready to resume production, a base metals project is on the verge of starting up and at least one diamond mine may open in the next few years. That could mean a bright future, and an all-weather road probably would attract more development.

"The advantage of a permanent road is that it could encourage other companies," said George Patterson, the territory's director of mineral policy. "But it's only an option. It's being studied because of the number of mines that could come into production."

The price tag: $450 million, plus $37.5 million more for a port near Coppermine on the Arctic Sea.

And a second price tag: The environmental cost of cutting a road that will be heavily traveled through a pristine wilderness called the Barrens, the home of the musk ox, caribou and grizzly bear. That cost remains unknown, environmentalists say, but some believe nature can accommodate development.

"There's an all-weather road from Yellowknife clear to Edmonton, and if you go a kilometer off that road you are in the wilderness," said David Livingstone of the federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. …

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