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Snap Lake almost there

John Curran
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, August 15, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - Still weeks from the start of production ramp-up, De Beers Canada's Snap Lake project has already been a success on many fronts.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Maximino Amurao, left, and Michael Deering work at spooling water pipe prior to its installation at Snap Lake, which is set to become the NWT's third producing diamond mine later this year. - John Curran/NNSL photo

NNSL Photo/Graphic

At the peak of construction there were approximately 850 workers employed at Snap Lake. Currently that number has dropped to slightly less than 800. Once production begins on or around Sept. 30, De Beers expects to employ roughly two shifts of about 260 to 265 workers on a two-week, fly-in-fly-out rotational basis.

- Source: De Beers Canada

As of June 15 a total of $805 million had been spent on construction activities with about $535 million of that going to NWT businesses - roughly 66 per cent of total building budget.

Two-thirds of the NWT expenditures, or about $359 million, has gone directly to Aboriginal businesses and joint-venture firms.

"There are so many opportunities in mining," said Northerner Sabet Biscaye, De Beers' senior community liaison co-ordinator in the NWT. "With De Beers planning to be in the NWT for at least the next 20 years, young people need to finish their education so they can build rewarding careers with us."

A respected resident of the North, she said she's proud of the way her employer partners with First Nations to train those looking for work.

"I'm well known in the communities and it's my reputation on the line," she said. "Fortunately De Beers is a wonderful employer that lives the values it preaches."

Those five core values - written by the firm's employees worldwide - include: be passionate, pull together, build trust, show we care and shape the future.

Everywhere you look, these pillars are visible in the people working around the construction site. People like Yellowknife resident George Goulet, one of the lead electricians on the project who previously operated Ekecho Electrical for years in the city.

"It's a great company to work for," he said. "Everyone takes pride in their job and pulls together."

In addition to being a socio-economic success, the Snap Lake mine will also be an environmental triumph in many ways, according to Byron Higgins, project manager for the engineering, procurement and construction management phase at the site. Being Canada's first completely underground diamond mine, it will have a much smaller footprint on the land as it has no massive pits.

Snap Lake is like a small, self-contained community - complete with its own water treatment facilities and power plant.

"We've got four generators that are each capable of delivering 4.4 megawatts of electricity," he said.

Even the project's setbacks have been turned into victories, he added. After the 2006 winter road season was cut short by unseasonably warm weather, the company had to re-examine its plans and look for ways to save fuel anywhere it could.

"Working with Finning ... they really know their business ... we decided to install heat recovery units on the compressors and generators," said Higgins. "The captured heat energy is pumped around the site and used to heat the buildings."

Not only does the system reduce the amount of diesel burned, it also saves the company about $1 million each year.

"So it saves us money and it's good for the environment," he said.