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Cabinet mulls new Chinese biz issue

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ANOTHER massive Chinese-owned resource project is before Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet.

Some time in the new year, four federal ministers are to decide how to conduct an environmental review for the Izok Corridor proposal. It could bring many billions of dollars into the Arctic but would also see development of open-pit mines, roads, ports and other facilities in the centre of calving grounds for the fragile Bathurst caribou herd.

"This is going to be the biggest issue," said Sally Fox, a spokeswoman for proponent MMG Minerals, a subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned Minmetals Resources Ltd.

It would be hard to exaggerate the proposal's scope. Centred at Izok Lake, about 260 kilometres southeast of Kugluktuk, the project would stretch throughout a vast swath of western Nunavut.

Izok Lake would have five separate underground and open-pit mines producing lead, zinc and copper. Another site at High Lake, 300 kilometres to the northeast, would have another three mines.

MMG also wants a processing plant that could handle 6,000 tonnes of ore a day, tank farms for 35 million litres of diesel, two permanent camps totalling 1,000 beds, airstrips and a 350-kilometre all-weather road with 70 bridges that would stretch from Izok Lake to Grays Bay on the central Arctic coast.

MMG plans a port there that could accommodate ships of up to 50,000 tonnes that would make 16 round trips a year -- both east and west -- through the Northwest Passage.

Izok Lake would be drained, the water dammed and diverted to a nearby lake. Three smaller lakes at High Lake would also be drained. Grays Bay would be substantially filled in.

The result would be a project producing 180,000 tonnes of zinc and another 50,000 tonnes of copper a year.

"That's not insignificant," Fox deadpanned.

The deposits are an old story. Izok was discovered in the late 1970s and High Lake dates back to the 1950s. They'd been owned by a half-dozen different companies before Minmetals acquired them in 2009.

Their time has come, said Fox.

"They're very much about our future confidence in zinc," she said from Melbourne, Australia, where MMG is headquartered. "We see in the next few years a number of major zinc mines will be coming off-line."

One of those is MMG's own Century mine, which produces 500,000 tonnes of zinc annually.

"Between the Izok Corridor project in Canada and our other project in Australia, we would be hoping that they would replace the zinc production of our Century mine," Fox said.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 29, 2012 B19

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