N.W.T. gov’t agreed to sell its tungsten mining project — and could make $15M from it

A file photo of a drilling production stope at the Cantung Mine. The territorial government stepped up to buy Mactung for $4.5 million in 2015 (North American Tungsten)

The Northwest Territories government has agreed to sell Mactung to Fireweed Zinc Ltd, a private company, and it could make $15 million on the sale. That’s over $10 million more than what the territory bought it for seven years ago.

In a news release Tuesday, the government said it has accepted a letter of offer from Fireweed to take on 100 per cent of Mactung — a tungsten mineral exploration project straddling the N.W.T.-Yukon border.

It is one of the largest-known tungsten deposits outside of China — the main player in the market.

The property was once owned by Vancouver-based North American Tungsten. In 2015 it was granted creditor protection and the territorial government stepped up to buy Mactung for $4.5 million.

When the N.W.T. cabinet approved the purchase, the rationale given at the time was all other offers to buy the tungsten-rich property were too low.

The N.W.T. government has spent $346,521 to maintain it and its assets since 2015, as well as to “conduct Indigenous engagement” and do geological research. It also spent another $129,388 to jointly market both Cantung (a nearby mine) and Mactung with the federal government.

The Tuesday release from the government said the territory has always aimed to return the property to the private sector once its commodity value recovered.

“Our priority has been to find an established and experienced operator whose vision and business model will maximize benefits to Northwest Territories residents and businesses in the region and our territory overall,” said the N.W.T’s Minister of Finance Caroline Wawzonek in a statement.

“I am pleased to welcome Fireweed to the N.W.T.’s mining community and look forward to them advancing this exciting critical minerals project.”

The sale price breakdown

The terms of the sale of the Mactung property to Fireweed, according to a news release from the company, shows that the N.W.T. government could be paid up to $15 million.

The first step of the sale, Fireweed’s release said, includes the company paying the territory $1.5 million now, then $3.5 million within 18 months of finalizing of the definitive agreement.

If and when Fireweed announces intentions to build a mine on the Mactung Project or any portion of the mineral property interests controlled by Fireweed in the Yukon — known as the Macmillan Pass Project — the private company will pay the government another $5 million.

Finally, another $5 million will be paid if Fireweed announces an intention to build a mine just on the Mactung Project.

Fireweed CEO Brandon Macdonald said in a statement that Macmillan Pass will remain its flagship project, however, its  “recent staking of Gayna River and the addition of Mactung turns Fireweed into one of the leading critical mineral exploration companies.”

Company pledges to work with Indigenous communities

Yukon’s environmental assessment agency has been told to revisit parts of its recommendation for North American Tungsten’s Mactung mine. (North American Tungsten Corp. )

Mactung is positioned within the traditional territories of the Kaska Dena and First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, and the Sahtú Settlement Area.

The company said its plans to “create increased opportunities for local Indigenous groups and the people of both Yukon and Northwest Territories.”

It also says it will “conduct mineral development activities in a sustainable manner by working collaboratively with Indigenous groups and local communities, establishing a respectful and safe working environment, achieving a high standard of environmental stewardship, and undertaking studies and implementing measures to address local interests and issues.”

The Mactung deposit is about 13 kilometres north of Fireweed’s Tom deposit, the company’s release said, and is also accessible by the North Canol Highway “providing potential for future synergies.”

Cantung not part of sale

The Mactung property was set to be sold in tandem with another mining property — the former Cantung mine, which the Canadian government has responsibility for. (Both of these properties were held by North American Tungsten before it went into bankruptcy protection in 2015.)

However, the territory said that approach ended on March 30 “without receipt of an acceptable bid.”

The territory said no concessions, subsidies or incentives were negotiated with Fireweed as part of the Mactung transaction.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canadian government rejects Arctic mine’s request for emergency order, CBC News

Finland: Miners hunting for metals to battery cars threaten Finland’s Sámi reindeer herders’ homeland, The Independent Barents Observer

Lapland: The Arctic Railway – Building a future or destroying a culture?, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Significant metals discovery in key reindeer herding land in Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: UN experts call on Sweden to halt mining project on Indigenous Sami land, Eye on the Arctic

Amy Tucker, CBC

Amy Tucker has experience reporting in various parts of Southern Alberta and is currently based in Calgary.

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