Yukon mining stakeholders are cheering the news that the federal government and Yukon Territory will jointly fund 650 kilometres of roads that will access resource-rich areas and, it is expected, accelerate development of mines in the Dawson and Nahanni ranges.
A handful of mining firms immediately issued statements applauding the funding and the Mining Association of Canada called the roadways "critical infrastructure that will greatly assist the territory in seizing growth opportunities."
Paul West-Sells, president of Casino Mining Corporation, part of Western Copper and Gold, whose Casino project is located on the proposed Casino Trail in the Dawson Range, commented, "These roads are certainly game-changers for mine companies and companies doing the exploration."
Casino is said to hold one of the largest copper-gold deposits in the world.
As an example of the shot in the arm the road funding represents for the construction sector, West-Sells said his firm's timetable for development is to seek permitting over the next two years and then embark on a $2.5-billion construction phase over four years to bring the project to the commissioning stage.
Another executive contacted for comment, John Anderson, chairman of Triumph Gold Corp., whose Freegold Mountain project is also located in the Dawson Range, similarly used the phrase "game-changing" in describing the new roadways.
His firm has not yet estimated the value of the construction required to ready the Freegold project for production, but he said it will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The project is still in the exploration stage.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Yukon Premier Sandy Silver announced $360 million in joint funding for the two roadway systems at a media conference in Whitehorse Sept. 2.
The allocations for what is termed the Yukon Resource Gateway Project included $112 million from the Yukon and $248 from the federal government. The mining sector is expected to contribute over $100 million as well.
The Yukon government projected the spending would generate 4,584 jobs in direct and indirect road construction impacts alone — not including the jobs associated with the hundreds of millions in construction spending that typically is required to set up each mine. There are a few projects currently in operation such as Minto and Fort Knox but many more are in the preliminary stages.
"It is massive for the construction business, massive for the First Nations people who will get a lot of those jobs, and good for the people of the Yukon, because it could trigger some other infrastructure projects going ahead," said Anderson, mentioning power projects and transmission grids.
In the Dawson Range, four separate public road systems will be upgraded offering improved access to such potential projects as Goldcorp's Coffee Mine, Victoria Gold's Eagle Gold mine and others such as Klaza, Lucky Strike, Ballarat and Caribou Creek, in addition to the Casino and Freehold Mountain projects. The Tintina Gold Belt also includes the White Gold Property from Underworld/Kinross and the Carmacks Copper North project.
Among the beneficiaries of the upgrades to the 188-kilometre Nahanni Range Road to the east will be the 3 Aces project from Golden Predator. The 3 Aces camp is located at kilometre 134 of the road, according to a Golden Predator media statement that also said the roadwork "literally unlocks the wealth of the Yukon."
Goldcorp spokesperson Christine Marks welcomed the road funding announcement in a statement to the Daily Commercial News.
"We see this as a very positive step to help unlock the value of the mineral potential in the district, creating thousands of direct and indirect jobs and many spin-off benefits for Yukoners that will endure for future generations," said Marks.
A published report indicated Goldcorp's Coffee project, which is in the permitting stages, would require 37 kilometres of new road.
West-Sells said his firm had been working on the deal with government officials for the past two years, with the federal government asking the miners to ensure there was First Nations buy-in to the projects before funding was announced.
Besides fly-in, winter roads and barges using the nearby Yukon River to access its site, Casino currently uses 82 kilometres of the one-lane, gravel Freehold Road to bring in equipment, with vehicles lumbering at 30 to 50 kilometres per hour, said West-Sells. In future it will use a modern, two-lane paved roadway, with vehicles travelling 80 kilometres per hour.
Even with the government funding, he estimated Casino will still have to spend $70 million on access roads in addition to such construction costs as $220 million for a natural gas plant and $50- to $100 million on water works.
The Freehold Road stops at the Freehold Mountain project. Anderson said the road is adequate for the exploration stage his firm is at but if and when construction and operations begin, the new roads will be much more efficient and they are essential for all of the other firms without the modest access Triumph Gold has.
"It will help expedite the development," he said.
"Larger trucks, larger machinery going back and forth instead of flying stuff in, so it is a game changer for sure. It will bring more attention to the area and bring more discoveries."