Mine boosters
Don't delay Diavik, business says

Doug Ashbury
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 25/99) - Subjecting the Diavik diamond project to more environmental review would send a ripple through the country's economy, the NWT and Yellowknife chambers of commerce and the NWT Construction Association, claim.

The groups say a delay would send the wrong message to resource companies looking to invest in other NWT projects as well as across Canada.

"Changing the process (some groups are calling for a panel review of the Diavik project) at this late stage would result in considerable loss of confidence by the investment community," the three groups said jointly.

They urge Environment Minister David Anderson to consider the full Canadian economy as he decides if the project can go to the permitting stage.

By GNWT estimates, the federal government stands to get about $7 billion in resource royalties from two NWT-based operating diamond mines.

"It is our wish that the investment climate not be jeopardized further by indecision and uncertainty," the trio of NWT business groups said.

They made their collective position known soon after the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board listed gaps in the Diavik environmental assessment. The board said if its concerns were not addressed, the project should undergo further environmental review.

Among the sectors of the Northern economy that stand to benefit significantly is construction. Diavik's construction schedule follows years of government capital expenditure cutbacks.

"We've demonstrated we are capable of handling most of the work in the NWT. We are very much in favour of this (Diavik) development," NWT Construction Association president Bill Aho said.

North Slave Metis Alliance president, Clem Paul, said the organization has concerns, but that they can be dealt with through the socio-economic agreement and an impact benefit agreement between the company and the alliance.

Diavik president Stephen Prest could not comment on how much a delay would cost. "We feel that what has been done through the comprehensive study report was thorough," he said.

Prest said it is premature to discuss when the 1999 cut-off date for Diavik's shareholders is. But if they are to meet the 2000 ice-road window, the shareholders will have to be in a position to give the project their approval some time between mid-December and the end of the year.

To get its message across, the chambers and construction organization are trying to raise $45,000 from its membership for a Globe and Mail full-page ad.

"We believe this is a national issue, not just an NWT issue. It's not just about Diavik. It's a Canadian issue and an issue about the process," NWT chamber vice-president Alan Vaughan said.

The moves by the business groups came the same week that the GNWT released the Diavik socio-economic agreement.

The agreement includes targets that would translate into jobs and money not only for the NWT but also for Nunavut's West Kitikmeot region, if the $1.3-billion project, owned by Rio Tinto and Aber Resources, reaches construction.

"We said early on this is a Northern operation," Doug Willy, Diavik Diamond Mines' vice-president, community and government affairs, said. Diavik Diamond Mines, a Rio Tinto subsidiary, is the Diavik project manager.

On the agreement in general, Willy said, "There's a lot of good stuff in there, but we all know nothing comes easy."

Once operational, at least two-thirds of Diavik's workforce will be Northern. Unlike the BHP socio-economic agreement, there is no aboriginal requirement during construction.

An operating Diavik will employ between 350 and 450 people.

"It is the aspiration of Diavik Diamond Mines that, over time, the project workforce will approach 100 per cent Northerners," according to the agreement.

For the purposes of the socio-economic agreement, a Northerner is defined as a resident of the NWT or the West Kitikmeot region (Kugluktuk, Umingmaktok, Bathurst Inlet).

Some of Diavik's employees will apprentice. While in commercial production, Diavik will employ and provide training for between eight and 18 apprentices.

Another key area in the agreement is spending. Under the agreement, there are spending targets during construction and operation (for a listing of the agreement's targets, and how they stack up to what was expected at Ekati, as well as numbers from BHP Diamonds, see chart).

In the agreement, a "Northern business" is defined as operating in the NWT or the West Kitikmeot region.

Another part of the agreement is an advisory board. Willy said the board is not just about policing the numbers, it's about taking part. The board was set up to provide input and help "make this work," Willy said.