The main artery into Mount Milligan Mine is getting a major upgrade.
All the residents and business travellers accessing Fort St. James's North Road will share the benefits.
North Road is a provincial backcountry highway connecting the communities and jobsites extending north to Germanson Landing, northeast to Mackenzie, and the labyrinth of sideroads into the bush. It is a busy area for provincial park tourism, agriculture, First Nations, rural homes, hunting and fishing, and especially logging.
North Road wasn't intended for all the heavy industrial trucks it now supports. Nechako-Lakes MLA John Rustad said getting the provincial investment money for toughening up this road was one of his main priorities.
"In spring and fall breakup it is often only at 70 per cent strength, but we have taken some steps to make it what is called 'managed 100 per cent' strength," Rustad said. "It is acting basically as a highway, with a lot of normal public traffic but lately it has shifted to also bear the weight of a lot of logging trucks as well as the traffic servicing the construction phase of Mount Milligan Mine."
The official government announcement has yet to be made, but it will be money not previously disclosed in the road maintenance projections for the year, Rustad said.
"What I have heard is the work will start sometime this fall and be completed next year," said Jocelyn Fraser, spokeswoman for Mount Milligan owners Thompson Creek Metals. "As one of the North Road users, we fully support any initiative to improve safety on the road and thank the provincial government for their investment. We run a crew bus taking employees to Mount Milligan from Fort St. James every day, and we have brought quite a bit of heavy equipment to site via this route."
On some occasions in the soft seasons, the deterioration on the North Road prevented the crew bus from passing, let alone the industrial activity like logging trucks. The degraded state of the North Road prompted a public meeting in Fort St. James this past spring. It was facilitated by Central Interior Logging Association executive director MaryAnne Arcand.
"The North Road has been a concern for the last number of years," she said. "It just wasn't designed for that kind of traffic, especially when Mount Milligan started to have traffic there, adding to the really high amounts of forestry."
The logging association was one of the many stakeholders that expressed to government the need to retrofit the preexisting road with heavy industrial capabilities. Arcand said it took some unusual lobbying efforts.
"It is a public road which makes it much different than other resource roads we [loggers] use in the district," she said. "With resource roads, industry has a chance to have a lot of input on how it is built and maintained, but because the North Road is in essence a public highway, we don't have those built-in mechanisms for meaningful input."