Company continues slow-down on ambitious road, port and mine project
MMG Ltd., the proponents of the Izok corridor project, a big zinc-copper extraction scheme in Nunavut’s western Kitikmeot region, will put off taking the next step in an environmental review of the project for at least one year and possibly longer.
The company had told the review board earlier this year they would submit an updated project description for the Izok corridor by December 2013.
But now, MMG says they want more time.
“MMG is continuing to evaluate alternative engineering options with potential to add value to the project, as well as planning for a 2014 exploration program focused on identifying more mineral resources in the Izok corridor,” Sahba Safavi, MMG’s project manager for Canada, said Nov. 13 in a letter to the Nunavut Impact Review Board.
And Safavi did not commit to a firm date for submission of the updated project description, saying the firm would provide the NIRB with another update during the last quarter of 2014.
Under MMG’s plan, the company would build a 350-kilometre road from the huge Izok Lake mineral deposit near the Nunavut-Northwest Territories border by Contwoyto Lake to a port on Coronation Gulf at a spot called Gray’s Bay.
That road would pass through another mine site at High Lake.
The rich mineral deposits at Izok Lake and the other properties in MMG’s collection have been known to geologists since the late 1950s.
Since then, the on-again, off-again property has passed through the hands of many owners, none of whom ever figured out how to economically mine and transport the region’s huge stores of zinc, copper and lead.
The MMG group emerged after 2009, when state-owned China Minmetals Corp. gobbled up nearly all mines and exploration projects controlled by Australia’s debt-ridden Oz Minerals Ltd.
One of those properties was a shopping basket of lead-copper-zinc sites in the western Kitikmeot that Wolfden Resources Inc. had sold to Zinifex, the company that formed one-half of the short-lived Oz conglomerate.
Wolfden’s canny shareholders may be the only people who ever profited from Izok Lake. In 2007 they accepted a $363-million share-purchase deal offered by Zinifex, which morphed into Oz a year later and then came close to going belly-up in the 2008 recession.
But when MMG’s parent company snapped up Oz, they inherited an old transportation plan for Izok that Wolfden had developed. It combined mineral production from two sites, Izok Lake and High Lake, linked by a road from Izok to Grays Bay.
The most expensive piece of infrastructure in that plan is the 350-kilometre road that leads to the port at Grays Bay.
The firm filed the first version of its project description with the NIRB on Sept. 4, 2012.
After a screening, with recommendations from the NIRB, Bernard Valcourt, the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, ordered this past April 8 that the project get an environmental review under Part 5 of the Nunavut land claim agreement’s Article 12.
But soon after, MMG told the review board that they want to file an updated version of their project description prior to the start of any work on scoping and guidelines for a future environmental impact statement.
That’s because they wanted to consider “additional project design options with potential to improve the economic viability of the project.”
Until that document is filed, the project cannot move forward.
In the meantime, MMG will continue to do exploration and socio-economic, environmental and engineering studies, MMG said.
The proposed Izok mine, with an open pit and underground mine under Izok Lake, would include a two-million-tonne per year concentrator, which would also process the ore from the High Lake mine.
MMG also proposed building new airstrips at Izok Lake, High Lake and Grays Bay, along with a new port at Grays Bay with the capacity to ship 650,000 tonnes of concentrate per year.
The original project description also called for 10 to 15 shipments a year to run east during an 80-day window from mid-July to October, except for the last run of the season, which would head west.
No year-round ice breaking would take place, under that proposal. Ships would avoid unnecessary ship acceleration, keep to the same course whenever possible and maintain a minimum distance from the shore.
On the haul road, MMG says it would make provisions for caribou crossing, close the road during the calving season and create water crossings to protect fish stocks.