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Hay River could play a big role in Cheetah Resources’ Nechalacho rare earth demonstration project currently under development southeast of Yellowknife.
Photo courtesy of Cheetah Resources / Photo by Bill Braden

The importance of Hay River appears to be growing for a mining project under development on the north shore of Great Slave Lake, southeast of Yellowknife.

David Connelly, the vice-president of strategy and corporate affairs with Cheetah Resources, outlined Hay River’s possible involvement as a barging hub for the rare earth project during a Nov. 16 online presentation to town council.

Connelly noted that, when he last spoke to Hay River council in March, it was 50-50 for ore coming to Hay River or to Yellowknife over an ice road and/or by barge.

“I would say it’s now 90-10 that it will come to Hay River,” he said, noting Marine Transportation Services (MTS) put on a very good presentation for Cheetah Resources engineers on Nov. 16, although prices haven’t yet been crunched.

“In the first year, we’ll do whatever it takes to get what we need to get into and out of the project,” said Connelly. “So it will probably be some mixture of Hay River and Yellowknife ice road, and little barges and big barges, just because there’s such a tight schedule. But the stabilized vision is now focusing on Hay River.”

Cheetah Resources is planning to begin a three-year demonstration project at the Nechalacho site next year.

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“Cheetah plans to commence production at Nechalacho in 2021 and aims to produce a minimum of 5,000 tonnes per annum of concentrated rare earth oxides,” Connelly told council. “So 5,000 tonnes per annum isn’t a lot. It’s about three and a half 1,500-tonne barges, but a very small amount of rare earths mixed in traditional metals vastly changes and improves their performance.”

All of the mining and crushing will take place in 2021, and the ore will be sorted for shipment over the following three years to a hydrometallurgical processing facility in Saskatoon expected to be completed by October of next year.

“So that’s a really busy year,” said Connelly.

If all goes according to plan, a scaled-up project would follow.

Rare earths are a group of 17 elements used in a wide variety of technologies, including cell phones, computers, vehicles, magnets, lights, motors and electronics.

Deputy Mayor Robert Bouchard asked about the type of ore that might be shipped through Hay River.

Connelly explained that the inert ore would be the size of marbles and would be enclosed in bags on pallets when it arrives by barge.

It would likely be transshipped at the MTS site either onto trucks or rail, he said. “And that hasn’t been resolved yet. In the first year, I’m almost sure it will be trucks because it will be a relatively small quantity. In the subsequent years, that’s still a decision.”

Coun. Steve Anderson asked where Cheetah Resources plans to establish its head office.

“I’m going to have to be blunt and I’m not going to make you happy, but it’s going to be in Yellowknife, and it will be a staff of about five,” Connelly replied.

The Nechalacho project will operate eight months a year, beginning in April and wrapping up after the last barge in mid-October.

Cheetah Resources is owned by Vital Metals of Australia.

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