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Northern businesses ship supplies on the ferry or the ice road to cross the Mackenzie River, but that could change if the territorial government builds the proposed $150 million bridge by 2010, as Premier Joe Handley said last week at the legislative assembly. The project would be funded partly through a $6 a tonne commercial toll - which would affect the mining industry, according to the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines. - photo courtesy of George Lessard

For whom the bridge tolls

Jennifer Obleman
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, August 22, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - It may be Premier Joe Handley's vision to build a $150 million bridge across the Mackenzie River, but the mining community isn't buying into the vision—especially the part about charging a $6 a tonne commercial toll to help pay for it.

"It's the toll that's the issue. It's a major ongoing cost for what has really become a minor seasonal inconvenience," said Mike Vaydik, general manager of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines.

Vaydik estimated the $6 a tonne commercial toll would add up to about $150,000 a year in extra operating costs at an average mine.

Capital costs would also increase, particularly mine construction, and wages and job numbers could be affected.

Plus, there's no guarantee the toll would stay as low as $6 a tonne, Vaydik said.

"I'm not trying to say this is going to kill all new mine development," he said.

"But, the mines are price takers in the marketplace. Mines have no one to pass the cost on to . . . every time production costs go up, you have a shorter mine life. There'll be fewer jobs over a long period of time and fewer spin-off benefits."

Instead of charging a toll, the territorial government should lobby Ottawa for funding to complete the northern highway system, Vaydik said.

"To ask 40,000 people to pay for this kind of infrastructure just isn't reasonable," he said.

The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce isn't yet sold on Handley's vision for the Mackenzie River bridge, either.

"It's something I think we should know more about before we endorse it," said President Jim Erikson, adding the Government of the Northwest Territories hasn't been in contact with the chamber to provide information about the project or to gather input and ideas.

"A bridge itself is a positive step, but the costs involved have gone from $50 million a couple years ago to $150 million. It's a great idea to build a bridge, but we need some justification of costs."

Some Yellowknife businesses are not overly concerned about costs that could come with the bridge.

Brent Stevens, Kingland Ford general manager, said any extra cost would likely be passed on to the consumer, but the difference would be minimal.

"If you take a typical pick-up truck, between two and three tonnes, let's say three tonnes, that's only $18. I don't think it's going to have a huge impact on our business," Stevens said.

"I'm not overly excited about the bridge. We've done very well with the ferry service up to now. For the amount of money they're spending, maybe there's a better place to spend it."

Fuel prices probably won't be affected much by the bridge, either, according to Shell manager Asif Jutt.

"The toll is not that much. It's fair," he said.

"When the ferry's out, we pay for the helicopter to bring stuff in, so it's going to be about equal, I think. Six dollars a tonne shouldn't cost us too much.