Cheetah Resources, the critical minerals company that owns the rare earths mine at Nechalacho on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, began shipping out ore concentrate from Hay River on April 19.
Five-hundred and one one-tonne bags of bastnaesite — a red rare earth mineral — were shipped by barge into the Port of Hay River last October after an initial season of mining.
For the next seven to eight weeks, Cheetah will be sending the bags of minerals to a processing facility by truck to Saskatoon, where product will be further refined.
The company initially planned to send out by rail, however, Manitoulin Transport was on site on April 19 to take the first loads.
According to Ray Anguelov, Cheetah’s operations manager, each transport truck will carry 22 bags, with three shipments taking place per day.
By the end of last week, Anguelov expected about 66 bags to be sent to Saskatchewan.
Last year was the first year of production for Cheetah at Nechalacho and Geoff Atkins, managing director of Cheetah, told the Hub recently that the company was looking forward to the shipping process as a means to test the supply chain.
Following the barge shipment from the mine site to Hay River, product is bound for Saskatoon for further refinement before being sold to customers.
“I think when you look at the volumes that we’re actually bringing through and the historical use of the barge transportation in the ports, it’s not really something which has done those volumes before,” Atkins said. “For us, in the case of any new infrastructure supply chain, you just want to test the system. You want to understand where are the bottlenecks, how does it work and really make sure that you pull all of that together to understand how it is working.”
Though the company has put shipped only 500 tonnes of product through the port in 2021, the GNWT’s Marine Transportation Services (MTS) has seen an increase in general activity in recent years.
According to Tom Maher, manager of marine operations with the MTS, there were 8,000 tonnes of freight that went through the Hay River port in 2021, which was up sharply from 3,068 in 2020.
Of that amount, 599 tonnes came from the mining industry.
“Deck freight in 2021 increased by nearly 5,000 tonnes in 2021 over 2020,” Maher stated. “The extra 4,500 came from various other projects throughout the North.
“It is not from any one individual project. Many projects were shut down or delayed in 2020 due to the uncertainties caused by Covid but were ramped back up in 2021.”
David Connelly, vice-president of strategy and corporate affairs with Cheetah, recently told Town of Hay River council that the company is planning on ramping up shipment in 2022-‘23 and the over the next two to three years with 5,000 tonnes of the mineral through the port. That figure is expected to increase further to 25,000 tonnes per year.