The City of Quesnel is looking to build a direct access route to New Gold’s Blackwater mining project.
Located 110 kilometres southwest of Vanderhoof, the proposed open-pit gold and silver mine is currently accessed through Vanderhoof over existing forest service roads.
“We’re not dividing a fixed pie at all,” said Quesnel’s Mayor Bob Simpson. “We’re not suggesting, as some people in the community is suggesting, that we want all of New Gold activity here, we want all the employees, we want it based out of here.
“We’re just looking at, can we make it easier for people in our community to work at New Gold with an expedited access to it.”
Prepared last September for Quesnel’s Community and Economic Development Corporation, the Nechako Basin Access Economic Impact Study originated from the city’s dialogue on looking at all economic options, after the 2014 closure of Canfor’s sawmill in Quesnel, Simpson explained.
“People will still be camp-based out of New Gold…it’s just a matter of whether it’s based on a six-hour bus ride, or a two-and-half-hour drive to get there themselves,” he said
The study indicates that an improved road access to the Blackwater Project, as well as the Lower Nechako Basin, would increase jobs and income for local and future Quesnel residents and nearby First Nation communities, with a positive impact on mineral exploration and tourism activities based out of Quesnel.
“I didn’t buy a lot of the arguments, quite frankly, in the report, because it presumed that it’ll be 100 per cent additive — so any new job in New Gold would be a new person in a new household and a new property tax — which wouldn’t be the case,” said Simpson. “Notwithstanding that we know it would just give us another employment opportunity for our workforce here.”
Three possible routes are considered in the study, each using a combination of existing paved and forest service roads, and involving two to six kilometres of new road construction.
All three routes eventually connect to the Kluskus Forest Service Road that is currently used for accessing the Blackwater Project from Vanderhoof.
Simpson says the proposed new road is part of a dialogue with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure regarding the Highway 97 corridor through Quesnel, as it connects to Highway 16 for transportation of goods to Prince Rupert’s port.
“If you create that road…bisect that big right-angle turn in Prince George, from here to Vanderhoof, would you say that the next phase of it would be to make it a good solid transportation route that pushes goods to markets sooner,” Simpson said.
This January, the City of Quesnel forwarded the economic impact study to the Cariboo North region’s MLA Coralee Oakes for consideration — it’s a provincial government decision, he said.
“Like Vanderhoof, we’re a community in transition,” Simpson said. “We’re just looking at maximizing any of the employment opportunities that allow people to live here.
“If New Gold’s bringing in a lot of people that are not in our region, then we want to be as attractive for those people to live here as they would in Vanderhoof or Fort St. James or Fraser Lake — wherever the catchment area is for people working for that project.”
For Vanderhoof’s Mayor Gerry Thiessen, the district’s current issue with the project lies in traffic safety on the Kluskus Forest Service Road, though the two mayors had not have a chance to discuss the subject, he said.
“We have saw mills that are working on the Kluskus Forest Service Road, that’s why New Gold decided that people working on the mine will travel there by bus, just on the safety aspect,” Thiessen explained. “Any more activity going through that road would be a safety issue for the loggers in that area.”
He added, “Anything that takes away from the safety and security aspect to industry…if you end up with a lot of people travelling on an industrial road, certainly that is going to take away from the economy of not only Vanderhoof, but all of B.C.”
New Gold states that its original feasibility study and road access for the project included a new road to Quesnel.
“In terms of project development, it made the most sense to us to use the existing access that is in the Fraser Lake, Vanderhoof region to allow us to access the site,” said Tim Bekhuys, Director of the Blackwater Project.
“I know Quesnel has been interested in looking at a link to the area for economic reasons, not just Blackwater…certainly we’ll continue talking with them.”
The mining project is currently undergoing federal and provincial environmental review, with a public comment period until Feb. 19.