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Tibbitt-Contwoyto Winter Road opens to public

Truck traffic on the 575-km Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road will open on Feb. 8, said the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road Joint Venture. NNSL file photo

The Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road opened for public travel on Feb. 3.

Truck traffic on the 575-km road is scheduled to start on Feb. 8 at 8 a.m, according to a news release from the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road Joint Venture on Feb. 3. Rio Tinto, Dominion Diamond Mines and De Beers Canada are the joint venture partners.

The road, which leads northeast from Yellowknife and towards Nunavut, connects to the Ekati, Diavik and Gahcho Kué diamond mines.

Members of the public should be aware that the road might be closed at times due to poor weather or events related to Covid-19 to ensure public safety.

Drivers should be prepared for slow-moving vehicles and drive according to the conditions of the ice road and the portages. All drivers are urged to carry proper winter clothing and survival equipment, as weather conditions can change quickly.

More than 6,000 loads to go up road

An estimated 6,100 loads will be transported to the mine sites until the road closes on March 31, weather permitting. Estimates for the season are set by the mines and are subject to change, said Mike Lowing, spokesperson for the joint venture.

This year's load estimate is lower than the totals of previous years. In 2018 it was 8,209, in 2019 it was 7,489 and in 2020 it was 7,072, according to the 2020 Winter Road Operating Summary that the joint venture published in October.

Lowing said he couldn't comment on the differences between this year's estimate and the totals for past years.

Covid-19 controls

A Covid-19 control program is in force for the winter road, with screening and testing conducted for personnel who work on the road and for truck drivers. Everyone must wear approved face masks and maintain two metres of physical distancing.

Winter road camps are closed to the public to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

All NWT resident rotational workers in remote camps were encouraged by chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola on Feb. 2 to get their Covid-19 vaccinations because camps tend to also have many workers from outside of the territory who could import the virus into the NWT.

However, most drivers on the winter road come from outside of the NWT and are ineligible for those vaccinations, Lowing said.

Resupply to mines on schedule

The truck resupply schedule to the Gahcho Kué Mine will continue as planned despite an outbreak of Covid-19 that was declared at the mine on Feb. 3, said Terry Kruger, spokesperson for De Beers, which operates the mine. The outbreak was announced after a second positive case of Covid-19 was diagnosed there.

The affected workers are not connected to the winter road program and have been in a secure quarantine wing at the mine since Jan. 30 and pose no risk to anyone at the mine or drivers.

“Gahcho Kué already had provisions in place to ensure no contact between winter road truck drivers bring supplies to the mine and mine-based workers,” Kruger said.

De Beers has worked with Kandola to inform its NWT resident workers and contractors that rotational resident workers and drivers have priority access to the Covid-19 vaccine.

“A number of De Beers employees took advantage of this opportunity to get their first dose,” he said.

Diavik encourages all of its employees to get vaccinated and the company follows best health practices from provinces and territories, a spokesperson said.

The company has in place measures to protect staff, including a testing program in partnership with GuardRX. Employees and contractors are tested upon arrival at the mine and before they leave.

A spokesperson for Arctic Canadian Diamond Company Ltd, the new owner of Ekati, wasn't available for comment by press time.