The ice road from Dettah to the Nechalacho Rare Earth Mine officially opened this past Saturday.
The 110-kilometer road on Great Slave Lake leads to where Cheetah Resources and Det’on Cho Nahanni Construction Ltd. will start work at the rare earth mine. The plan is to operate a mine about the size of a football field on Thor Lake to extract rare earth minerals, a critical component for energy-efficient and renewable products.
David Connelly, vice president of corporate affairs and strategy for Cheetah Resources Corp., says the company is now in the process of transporting the mining equipment.
Despite the route being across an ice road, Connelly says that does not mean the work needs to be completed before spring break-up season.
“The important thing is to get all the equipment, materials and supplies in the site,” he says, adding the extracted materials will then leave the site by barge this summer to Hay River.
Connelly says once the site is mobilized, the first step will be to remove the overburden — rock or soil that’s covering the mineral deposit — after which the ore, that is close to the surface, can be extracted.
Connelly says there are about 22 people employed at the mine right now, but the company is in the process of hiring and that number may increase to as many as 50 employees.
He says the priority will be to hire Indigenous and local residents — early hiring numbers found over 60 per cent of the mine’s workforce were Indigenous.
“And we certainly hope to keep achieving those levels of employment, both Indigenous and northern,” Connelly says.
Det’on Cho Nahanni Construction Ltd., the economic arm of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN), signed an agreement to run the operation last January.
Ndilǫ Chief Ernest Betsina was at the official opening.
In a previous interview Chief Betsina said he was happy with the hiring so far.
“I’m pleased that they’re hiring YKDFN and other First Nations people on the project,” he said.
Geoff Atkins, managing director of Cheetah Resources, said in a previous interview with CKLB Radio, the plan for the mine is to use environmentally friendly practices for extraction.
“This project demonstrates that it is possible to extract those minerals with as low an environmental footprint as possible,” he explains.
Connelly says he expects all the equipment to arrive at the mine by the end of the week.