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Extending the ice road

David Ryan
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 08/06) - Weather will ultimately decide how long the Tibbitt-Contwoyto ice road will last, but road builders plan to do everything possible to stretch the season.

This year they'll use a number of different tactics to keep the winter road running efficiently, said Tom Hoefer, spokesperson for the Joint Management Committee.

The committee currently comprises Diavik Diamond Mines and BHP Billiton Diamonds, he said.

Getting construction started sooner will hopefully result from using amphibious vehicles, called Haglands, to plow snow off the ice.

"They are able to float if there is breakage in the ice," he said.

Larger snow plowing equipment wouldn't normally be used on thin ice, but by using the amphibious vehicles, road construction can begin even if the temperature isn't ideal, he said.

Survey work over the summer also identified problem areas on the route. Areas of water with a large amount of rock just below the water surface will be avoided during construction, said Hoefer.

The road will also employ larger, dual lanes to force traffic to spread out. This reduces the wear and tear on the frozen surface. In some cases the lanes could actually split, said Hoefer.

By creating dual lanes, more flooding will be required, and a larger number of crew members will be used, for the project.

It is estimated the route will cost more than $10 million to build, he said.

"We haven't got all our eggs in one basket," he said.

"We have to... assume this year will be like last year."

Another strategy for maximizing supplies shipped to the mine sites is to increase the amount of traffic, said Hoefer.

That means sending groups of trucks every 15 minutes around the clock while the 400-km road is operational, he said.

Last year, the ice road was shut down on March 28, due to unseasonably warm weather. The season - which never hit maximum weight limits on all loads - ended after just 42 days.

Nuna Logistics is once again responsible for ice road construction and constant maintenance of the road, said Hoefer.

Cathie Bolstad, spokesperson for De Beers Canada's Snap Lake Project, expects that 800 loads containing supplies will be trucked along the route this winter to the soon-to-open mine.

As well, 40 million litres of fuel will also be hauled to Snap Lake, she said.