Communities vie for diamond valuation facility
BHP prefers to keep it Lac de Gras

by Nancy Gardiner
Northern News Services

NNSL (Feb 24/97) - Discussions on the location of a diamond valuation lab for BHP's diamond project in the NWT are under way. Both Hay River and Fort Smith are actively pursuing it.

Canada's first diamond mine is currently in the construction phase in the Lac de Gras area, 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife.

BHP's position is that a valuation facility would most likely be located at the mine site, said BHP's external affairs spokeswoman Karen Azinger.

However, Azinger says those are tentative plans and they could be affected by the company's marketing strategy.

Several NWT communities are hoping to persuade the federal and territorial governments to put such a facility in their communities.

But BHP says a valuation facility would not need to involve many people.

Mayor Jack Rowe of Hay River said this opportunity would provide economic benefits to Northerners. He wants the facility for his community.

It's his understanding that the federal government requires complete diamond valuations before the precious stones can be shipped out of the country.

He believes 20 to 30 people could be employed at such a facility.

With government restraint and oil industry declines, it would be a welcome sight, he said.

He said that if such a facility needs to be designed and constructed, this summer would be the time to start it.

Lynda Sorensen, executive assistant to Resources Minister Stephen Kakfwi, said her department has hired a consultant from Great Britain to study the issue.

"His draft report is due out shortly", said Sorensen, and "he's due to talk to us in early March."

If it proves feasible, cabinet will have to decide what route to take. "We're fast-tracking it and studying it," Sorensen said.

The valuation facility's purpose would be "for tax purposes and valuating for resale," she said.

She noted that BHP's position is that it should be onsite and as mechanized as possible. And both internal and external security are critical issues.

"Both Fort Smith and Hay River are interested in it but we haven't heard much from Yellowknife," added Sorensen.