The Town of Hay River will be meeting on July 20 to discuss the expected increase in marine, truck and rail freight through the town as a result of developments from the Nechalacho Rare Earths Mine.
The mine, which is located near Thor Lake, about 100 kilometres east of Yellowknife, began production this spring.
Part of the project’s production line includes the shipment of mined ore to a refinery in Saskatoon which the company is aiming to ship to through a network that includes barging from site to the town’s port before being exported by rail and truck.
David Connelly, spokesperson for Cheetah Resources which owns the mine, will be a delegate on behalf of the company.
He said that due to the mine’s development, substantial increases in traffic by rail and truck are expected to begin being seen this fall.
“The first tug and barges are expected to arrive in the Port of Hay River before freeze up this year for transshipment for further processing in Saskatoon,” he said.
“The company is hoping to retain additional economic opportunity in the Hub by maintaining and managing its inventory of ore concentrate in Hay River and shipping it to its processing facility as needed throughout the winter.”
Connelly said he hopes these developments lead to helping the town reverse a long-term contraction of the port and revive its cultural identity as a transportation hub that has more freight move through, especially southbound.
“In 2020 Marine Transportation Systems handled 6,300 tons of freight excluding (fuel),” he said. “Nechalacho expects to average 5,000 tons southbound for the next three years before increasing to 25,000 annually in 2024, if the company is successful in obtaining permits for the Tardiff expansion.”
Connelly said there is potentially other critical minerals that could be developed around the lake that may lead to adding to Cheetah’s efforts to help Hay River becoming a logistical point and transportation Hub for the NWT’s mineral industry.
“Of course if other mineral projects follow suit like Osisko Metals’ Pine Point project or Fortune Minerals’ NICO project it is really leading to the rejuvenation as a transportation hub of the North,” he said.
Connelly said that the company sees a “positive risk” for the need for rare earths mining in the Northwest Territories for two main reasons – one being the market demand in electric vehicles and other renewable sources of energy.
In June, the federal government made a new target mandatory that all new light-duty cars and passenger trucks sales have to be zero-emission by 2035. It will mean transforming the auto sector in Ontario and Quebec from one based on the internal combustion engine to electric vehicles.
“To do that, they need rare earths which enable the very strong magnets that are the basis of motors in all electric vehicles,” Connelly said.
The other reason is the geopolitical demand for an independent source of rare earths mineral sources apart from China which Canada, the United States, Europe and allies are pushing for in their development of strategic goods like phones, electric vehicles and other forms of high technology.
Mayor Kandis Jameson said in a brief statement by email on July 19 that the outlook appears promising for the town.
“This is great news for our community,” she said. “Hay River being the Hub of the North where transportation is a strength and key element of our community’s economic positioning; (we are) happy to see increasing demand.”
A request for comment was left with Hay River MLAs R.J. Simpson and Rocky Simpson as well as the Department of Infrastructure.