Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation's chief is asking the N.W.T. government to establish an ice road connecting the community to Yellowknife, which would help lower the cost of living for community members.
"It's very costly to ship items by air from Yellowknife to Łutselk'e," said Chief James Marlowe, adding the summer barge services are also expensive.
Marlowe said the plan would be to establish an ice road in March when the ice is at its thickest.
In an email, Darren Campbell, a spokesperson for the N.W.T.'s Infrastructure department, said a feasibility review of the ice road found several challenges with the idea, primarily related to pressure ridges and weather — enough that the project could create "a significant risk of travellers being stranded on the ice road during winter storm events."
Campbell said building the road could cost at least $2 million a year, and the result could require 24-hour surveillance.
But Marlowe isn't giving up.
"It's no for this year, maybe next year," Marlowe said.
Łutselk'e is one of four communities in the N.W.T. that are not accessible by road year-round. The other three are among the most northern communities in the territory: Paulatuk, Ulukhaktok and Sachs Harbour. Łutselk'e is within 200 km of a major highway system, as the crow flies.
But due to Łutselk'e's location, an ice road would likely need to travel over sections of Great Slave Lake, which can be challenging.
Mark Rocher is a telecommunications contractor under his company Aurora Telecom Services Ltd. He has worked on ice roads on and off for over 40 years and told CBC News that an ice road connecting Yellowknife to Łutselk'e is possible.
He said pressure ridges would be the biggest danger.
But under optimal conditions, it shouldn't take more than a month to manufacture the road, he said.
Thor Lake to Łutselk'e
In 2021, the Nechalacho Rare Earth Mining Project built a 110-km ice road on Great Slave Lake from Dettah to Thor Lake, which sits about 100 km southeast of Łutselk'e.
Marlowe said he's spoken with representatives of Nechalacho about extending that road to the community, but a road isn't being built to Thor Lake this year.
"We have limited operations this winter," said David Connelly, vice president of strategy and corporate affairs for Cheetah Resources, the company working on the Nechalacho project.
He said the company will be doing some drilling this year and any equipment that hasn't come in by barge will arrive by snowcat.
Connelly said barges are used in the summer to transport the concentrate out of Hay River.
But he said the project could need an ice road in the future, especially if the Tardiff expansion is permitted.
Most winter roads, including the approximately 700-kilometre Mackenzie Valley Winter Road that stretches from Fort Simpson up to an access road connecting to Colville Lake, is funded and operated by the territorial government. Most winter access roads to communities are as well.
But there are some roads not operated by the territorial government, including the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road which is a joint venture run by the Ekati and Diavik diamond mines and De Beers.
Lower the cost of living
Marlowe said an ice road to his community would allow large items like lumber, boats and vehicles to be transported there for cheaper.
"Not only that but we can also attract visitors," he said.
Marlowe isn't the only one pushing the territorial government on the idea. Richard Edjericon, the MLA representing Łutselk'e, brought the subject up in the Legislative Assembly this past fall.
He told CBC News that Łutselk'e community members often talked about the cost of living when he was campaigning to be their MLA last year.
"One of the things that we talked about was a winter road from Yellowknife to the community and probably some better barging services to the community to help reduce the cost of living, in terms of access to services like TV, couches, building materials, et cetera," he said.
Edjericon asked Infrastructure Minister Diane Archie in the Legislative Assembly in October whether the territory would consider it.