Each year, a 400-kilometre long ice road is built through Northern Ontario. Travelling over frozen rivers, peat and bogs, on ice that at times is 150cm thick, this road will lead to De Beers’ Victor Mine.
Due to the remoteness of the site, 90km west of the First Nation community of Attawapiskat, the ice road provides a vital supply route for mine equipment, fuel and construction materials, as well as crucial – and safe – access through the region for local people.
Life in Northern Ontario is dictated by the weather. Each year, with only a six week window to transport heavy loads to resupply the mine (which at times needs a 78% restock), the ice road is rebuilt under extreme conditions and time pressures. The challenge is acute and planning the road must be done far in advance. Indeed, it involves a year-round discussion with local companies, drawing on their knowledge, experience and logistical planning.
But these provisions cannot always offset the weather’s caprices. Extreme cold is needed before the winter snow, allowing the frost to penetrate deep into the ground to delay the thaw; because too much snow as winter descends will prevent the frost from setting the ground.
“Building the ice road is a huge challenge and a huge investment for De Beers,” says De Beers Corporate Affairs Manager Tom Ormsby. “It’s an investment in our mine, but it’s also an investment in the local community, which benefits from a safe and robust infrastructure with greater access through these parts.
“Our transportation schedule accommodates peak times for local communities while our diligence in road specifications and standards provides cascading benefits to other road users. Our priorities are to invest in and increase safety on the road itself, while also maximising the seasonal opportunity to move goods.”
But De Beers’ investment extends even further. During the construction of the road, the company also employs local contractors and suppliers, helping to contribute to the local economy and the sustainability of the community – a community that was there before the mine was built, and will remain long after.
The Victor ice road is one of three the company manages in Canada. De Beers also belongs to the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road Joint Venture in the Northwest Territories, which manages a 600km ice road built for resupply to De Beers’ Snap Lake Mine and Gahcho Kué Project, as well as two other mines on the barren lands.
The company is responsible for building and maintaining two spur ice roads, a 40km link from the main ice road to Snap Lake, and a 120km spur road to Gahcho Kué.
During the first three months of 2015, De Beers and its contractor partners managed 4,400 truckloads carrying equipment, supplies and 85.7 million litres of fuel to Victor and Snap Lake Mines and the Gahcho Kué Project.