01/11/2017 14:05 EST | Updated 01/12/2018 00:12 EST

All-season road to Whati, N.W.T., gets federal gov't funding

The federal government has announced it will pay 25 per cent of the cost of building an all-season road to Whati, N.W.T., through the P3 Canada Fund.

The announcement of funding for the long-anticipated road into the heart of the N.W.T.'s Tlicho territory was made Wednesday in Whati.

Additional funding for construction of the 97-kilometre gravel road will come from the territorial government, contingent on approval by the legislative assembly, as well as the private sector, using a public-private partnership, or P3, funding model.  

The total anticipated cost of the project has not been announced, as the government is putting the construction contract out to tender for private companies to bid on, but it was previously estimated to cost around $150-million.

  • N.W.T. continues down $150M road to Whati

As it stands, the community with a population of around 500 is only accessible by vehicle for several months a year, via an ice road that's becoming increasingly expensive and technically challenging to build.

  • Tlicho winter road-builders face 'challenges' this year, say N.W.T. officials

"The road to Whati will create a lot of opportunities. There will be work... the cost of living will be a little less, and there's also opportunity for businesses," says Alfonz Nitsiza, chief of Whati.

"It will be cheaper to go in and out of the community," he adds.

"Right now to go out and take my wife out for a weekend to Yellowknife, for the return fare alone will be close to $900… If we're to take a few groceries home, that's over a dollar a pound, so it adds up pretty quick."

The road is expected to extend ice road access to Wekweeti and Gameti, communities north of Whati, by up to a month each year.

It also will help provide access to Fortune Mineral's NICO project, a significant gold-cobalt-bismuth-copper deposit roughly 50 kilometres northeast of Whati.

Local labour

The GNWT will release the request for qualifications in February, which will begin the search for contractors to build the road. A timeline for when the project will be completed was not immediately provided.

"Once they get [funding] they want to fast track it, and hopefully the construction starts, probably in the winter of 2018," says Nitsiza.

"It will hopefully be done by three years after that. So we'll probably have a road maybe in the next four years."

He expects there to be significant employment opportunities for Tlicho members throughout the multi-year construction.