Update: Winter road to NWT mines re-opens Friday

The Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road, which supplies the NWT's major diamond mines. Rio Tinto photo
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The Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road will re-open Friday night at midnight. It shut down Wednesday afternoon after warm temperatures caused damage to portages along the 600-kilometre route which supplies the NWT’s major diamond mines.

Director of winter road operations Ron Near says temporary closures may happen again before the end of the season. The road is set to close March 31st, however, Near says it could close on short notice depending on weather conditions.

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The Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road, which supplies the NWT’s major mining operations, has been closed temporarily due to unseasonably warm temperatures.

The Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road supplies major mines north of Yellowknife. Winter Road Joint Venture map

A lifeline for mines in the territory, the 600-kilometre ice road runs from the end of Highway 4, 60 kilometres east of Yellowknife, to Contwoyto Lake in Nunavut. The road closed Wednesday afternoon and director of winter road operations Ron Near says he hopes to reopen the road Friday evening as temperatures cool.

Eighty seven per cent of the 600 kilometre road is constructed on frozen lakes which are not short on ice Near says. It is the portages, however, that are melting now.

“Because of the warming temperatures portages were soft and the returning empty trucks started to cause a lot of damage to the portages. And then with the warmer weather they softened up even more – we had running water and they were melting very fast.”

Near told MyYellowknifeNow in February he expected the road would carry 8,500 loads and an approved 300,000 metric tons of freight in its short operating season.

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Near says 87 per cent of the project is completed, adding there’s a good chance all the freight that was planned for transportation will get into the mines. They might have to close the road temporarily again, if temperatures warm.

“I think there’s a good chance we’re going to complete it and get all of the freight that was planned…into the mine sites, but it may take us a couple short stops and starts to get there.”

This is the second time the road has been closed since it began operations in 1982: in 2006 the road closed early. Since then, Near says construction and engineering improvements have allowed the road to last to the end of the season even with warm temperatures.

“In all the years I’ve been involved with the road I’ve never seen a situation like what we have right now, with the temperatures that we’ve had for such a long period of time,” Near says, who has been working on the winter road for 20 years. He is set to retire at the end of this season, but not before he faces one of the biggest challenges he’s seen in years.

The road has a short season of eight to 10 weeks to supply all of the mines’ equipment, fuel and other requirements. It opened February 1st and is expected to close March 31st, but could close on short notice at any time depending on weather conditions.

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