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Prairie Creek stalled

Canadian Zinc says review and permitting too costly

Thorunn Howatt
Northern News Services

Nahanni Butte (Dec 03/01) - In an effort to protect the beautiful Northern landscape from environmental spoil, still-new regulatory boards are frustrating potential resource developers.

NNSL Photo

Canadian Zinc's vice-president of exploration Al Taylor points out some machinery during a tour of the company's Prairie Creek mine in the NWT. - Derek Neary/NNSL photo

"The administration is just not large enough to handle the work," said chairman of Canadian Zinc Corporation, John MacPherson. He was referring to the regulatory permitting and review system in the Northwest Territories -- the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board and the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Review Board.

Canadian Zinc wants to permit and develop the Prairie Creek silver-zinc mine. Zinc prices are at record lows and two of the North's other zinc mines, Polaris and Nanisivik, have decided to close.

Despite the bad news with metal prices the zinc company would like to get on with its project.

"When we want something as simple as putting four diamond drill holes in the ground, we can wait almost a year to get them approved."

A mine and mill was built there in 1982 at a cost of over $100 million in today's dollars. It was permitted at the time but never operated. It is located in the south Mackenzie Mountains, close to Fort Simpson. The company's permit applications are review by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board. They were submitted in March.

The company's cost of waiting for permitting adds up to about $50,000 a month, said zinc company president Malcolm Swallow.

Swallow said wages, staff, insurance, operating companies and the cost of maintaining the property total about half a million a year. The company's permits for a six-hole drill program took 11 months to be permitted.

"There's always the difficulty of attracting people into a deal when it hangs around a long time, and this one has hung around for a long time, let's be honest about that," said Swallow. "If this project was in northern Ontario, it would take us about three months getting permits we are spending 11 months getting," he said.

Canadian Zinc needs $40 million to get its partially-built mine off the ground.

Until last year the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (DIAND) acted as authority over lands in the Northwest Territories.

In spring of 2000 the Mackenzie Land and Water Board was formed to regulate land-use permits and water licences in the unsettled land claim areas of the Deh Cho, North Slave and South Slave regions. Permit applications that have any type of questionable aspects can be forwarded to the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board. After a series of questions and investigation, the review board reports back to the land and water board who, if passed, send the application report to the minister of DIAND's office. It is then sent back to the land and water board where a permit can be issued.

"I actually think it is a growing pain," said Swallow, who complained that the slow system is caused by a shortage of department money and technical people in the North.

"Are we disappointed?" MacPherson questioned and answered, "Yes."

"Will we keep going? Yes," he said.