While advertisements have been published asking for input on the draft guidelines for the $164 million project, the final guidelines will not be set until early December, said Stephanie Briscoe, executive director for the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB).
Even if every aspect of the environmental process runs smoothly, Briscoe said the several steps of the environmental review will not be concluded until April 2006 at the earliest.
"That's being very optimistic. We're in the very early stages," said Briscoe.
Even though the project is in Nunavut, there are some in the NWT that will feel the impact.
"Specifically, in terms of wildlife and socio-economics, there is a need to consult in the NWT," said Briscoe.
For the first time, the NIRB has been instructed to consider submissions from pan-territorial sources.
Charlie Lyall, president and chief executive officer for the Kitikmeot Corporation, says the project is going to bring employment to the Inuit.
"We have a 50 per cent unemployment rate in the communities. That's the number one issue. We need to open the region up to mining and bring the cost of mine development down. (With the project) we'll be able to bring cheaper oil and fuel to the communities," said Lyall, who lives in Cambridge Bay.
Chris King, economic development officer for Cambridge Bay, said from the standpoint of his community this project is very important to developing the area and for the stimulation of economic development.
There have been a few projects on the drawing board for a long time and the port will stimulate those developments, he said.
There are five mining projects that might use the port and road: Ekati Mine, Diavik Mine, Snap Lake Mine and the proposed projects by De Beers with Gacho Kue and Inmet with Izok.
Another benefit is the potential to barge shipments for the Kitikmeot from the Bathurst Port rather than Hay River.
"It will extend the shipping season and allow for more development. By the time the barge season arrives, we're doing winter builds. With a port closer by, there's potential for a longer building season and hopefully lower shipping costs," said King.
It is estimated the building of the Bathurst project may lower shipping costs within the area by 30 per cent.
Environmentalists have expressed concerns the road may be passing by caribou calving and post-calving grounds.
"If there's an impact on the herd, there will be an impact on the communities of the Northwest Territories," said Briscoe.
Shelagh Montgomery, cumulative effects program director with the Canadian Arctic Resource Committee, says her group is concerned for the welfare of the Bathurst Caribou Herd. The herd's population has sank to 189,000 from 350,000, she said.
"It's uncertain why the numbers of caribou have fluctuated so widely," she said.
Lyall has a different perspective on the effects on the caribou.
"Well, I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't affect the caribou, but it's not as negative as people think. The sports hunters shot 3,000 prime bull caribou last year and that has more effect on the caribou population than our project," he said.
Proposed Bathurst Inlet project
The Bathurst Inlet Port and Road Project is expected to include a marine port in Bathurst Inlet with a wharf where 25,000-tonne vessels will dock.
A 180 million litre oil tank farm will also be built at the port.
A 150-person camp will be set up portside.
A 211 kilometre all-weather road will be built from the port to Contwoyto Lake.
In addition, a dock will be built for barges serving Kugluktuk, Bathurst Inlet, Cambridge Bay, Umingmaktok, Gjoa Haven and Taloyoak.
A 1,200 metre airstrip will be built at the port. Finally, a 20-person camp will be built at kilometre 211 of the road on the southeast shores of Contwoyto Lake.
The project is being proposed by the Kitikmeot Corporation and Nunalogisitics Ltd. These are Inuit-owned companies who have formed a joint venture to build and operate the project.
The project was originally proposed to provide access to the Izok Mine, a copper, lead and zinc mine, to be located north of Itchen Lake. The planned Izok project was put on hold, but the project proponents believe it will be reactivated in the future as a result of the construction of the Bathurst to Contwoyto road.
The total amount of money being asked for by organizations and communities is $1,115,506.
The federal government will be picking up the tab, but at this time it's uncertain which department will pay.