Skip to content

NWT's first rare earths mine one step closer

191017 - Nechalacho Project Description
Cheetah Resources hopes to develop a rare earth mineral mine near Great Slave Lake but one that has a fraction of the environmental footprint of a conventional mine, and that uses a fraction of the water. Balanced, innovative resource extraction ought to help in securing buy-in from communities. NNSL file photo

This year will likely see another step forward for NWT's mineral resource sector after the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board approved the transfer of land use permits and a water licence for the Nechalacho project 100 km southeast of Yellowknife.

Cheetah Resources, with the support of Avalon Advanced Materials sent a 14-page proposal letter to the Mackenzie Land and Water Board on Dec. 19 requesting land-use permits and a water licence to carry out a demonstration project of rare earths over three years beginning this summer.

The proposal was also distributed to more than 30 other groups, including Indigenous governments, advising of a Jan. 16 deadline for amendments.

Nearly a year ago, Cheetah and Avalon announced an agreement in-principle for Cheetah acquire the surface and near-surface mineral rights from Avalon at Nechalacho at the AME Round Up Conference in January 2019.

Shelagh Montgomery, executive director for the board, stated in an email that the request was approved Jan. 7, although amendments have yet to be submitted.

"The board met this morning and approved an assignment of existing land use permits and a water licence from Avalon Advanced Materials to NWT Rare Earths Ltd," she stated. NWT Rare Earths Ltd. is a joined company that will hold land use permits and water license for Cheetah and Avalon.
"Our understanding now is that NWT Rare Earths is working on amendment applications to be submitted to us for the work they would like to do at the Nechalacho site. So, at this time there is no application before the board and as such I can't give any estimate of timing."

Geoff Atkins, left, managing director of Cheetah Resources, and Don Bubar, CEO of Avalon Minerals, addressed the Rotary Club of Yellowknife last March. Cheetah submitted a proposed work plan to the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board on Dec. 19 to begin a three-year demonstration project at the Nechalacho rare-earths site 100 km southeast of Yellowknife.

David Connelly, strategic adviser to Cheetah, said that the company is aiming to submit any suggested amendments to the applications for the land use permits and water licence by the end of January. He said the company aims to begin work by the beginning of July.

Connelly added that the board provided the company a list before Christmas outlining areas in the work plan it feels require some amendments. Among them an accounting of different types and sizes of equipment on site.

"Now that they have been assigned, it needs to be determined how they will be amended," he said.

Cheetah hopes to announce an NWT-based company for the mining project later this month.

"Cheetah expects to be able to announce the successful NWT company who will be awarded the mining contract at the AME Round Up 2020," said Connelly, noting that it will take place Jan. 21 in Vancouver.

Ice road construction

The company is also expected to announce an NWT contractor for ice road development to the access site from Yellowknife by the end of this month.

The work plan letter stated that the project requires the transportation of several pieces of large transport equipment to the site by ice road - roughly 110 km - from the Great Slave Lake barge landing site in March, according to a letter. As such, having approval was critical for the timing of getting resources to the site.

"It is about 110 km of ice road on one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world and we expect to encounter between two and five pressure ridges," Connelly said. "Fortunately the NWT has world class expertise in pioneering ice roads and this won't be the first ice road."

The work plan states that there will be supporting work for the project that will include site preparation and clearing,  the building and maintenance of site roads, letdown areas and pads, construction of sediment erosion control structures, the upgrading and lengthening of an existing all-season airstrip and apron, the development of an existing exploration camp, fuel and other storage facilities.

There is also expected to be a need for the temporary storage of explosives and ammonium nitrate, the use of crushing and/or use of rock for site preparations and construction of concrete foundations for settling ponds, as well as for settling ponds as required.

Connelly said team from Cheetah is scheduled to meet with a team from WSCC next week to develop relationships and framework for safety of employers and contractors.