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Hoping for cold weather

Winter road needs low temperatures

Thorunn Howatt
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 05/01) - Colder autumn weather and less snowfall could mean an earlier ice road opening, but no one is holding their breath.

Everything we do is dependent on weather, said logistics manager for Echo Bay Mines Ltd. and joint venture spokesperson for the winter road, Kirk McLellan.

If we have an extremely cold, long, no-snow winter, thats going to provide us with better ice conditions, he said.

The road starts at the Ingraham Trail and ends at the Lupin Mine site. It is used mostly by BHP Billiton, Diavik Diamond Mines and Echo Bays Lupin Mine. About 80 per cent of the 567-kilometre road is built on frozen lakes and ponds.

There is a good deal of planning going on, said McLellan.

McLellan said a team will set out to do initial ice checking around Dec. 15. Then in the latter part of December we will send manpower into the camps. There are three operating camps, said McLellan.

There is a camp at Dome Lake, one at Lockhart Lake and one at Lac de Gras. Teams at the camps will clear the snow, check the ice and ready the camps for the opening of the road.

Snow acts as an insulator and there is not a lot of snow on the lakes, said McLellan.

A large amount of snow will slow the ice-making process. The less snow, the better it is for us.

Ice thickness is measured with an ice profiler. It is a special radar system that can be hung from the bottom of a helicopter.

It is kind of like an echo system that shoots a sound or a beam down through the ice and will record findings onto a piece of graph paper, said McLellan.

The profiler measures the density of the ice.

Once the ice is safe to set foot on, it is double-checked by drilling holes with an ice auger.

Then you start profiling longer sections of the road. And then once you determine you have sufficient ice you can start getting the lighter snow-clearing equipment out there to start ploughing the width of the road open.

Once the ice is clear it will freeze more quickly.

The roads contractors are in place a the main one is Nuna Logistics.

The cost of the road adds up to millions of dollars. It is paid for by a toll formula. The rate is calculated by multiplying distance by tonnage which amounts to ton kilometres. The ton kilometres are divided into operating costs equalling an operating cost-ton kilometre.

People pay proportionate to the distance and the tonnage that they are moving, said McLellan.

Last year was the busiest Lupin ice road ever. A total of 8,090 loads were hauled during the few months the road was open.

This year is expected to be less busy because Diavik has completed much of its construction. Last year the road opened Feb. 5.