Canada winter resupply road open to light loads

Fri Feb 1, 2008 1:59pm EST
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TORONTO (Reuters) - An Arctic ice road key to the resupply of Canada's diamond industry opened on time this week to regular truck traffic, according to the road's operator.

"The road is now open for light loads," said Tom Hoefer of Diavik Diamond mines, which along with BHP Billiton operates the road.

Minimum ice thickness on the 600 km (370 mile) Tibbitt to Contwoyto road is now 76 cm (30 inches), with 85 loads having been sent north already, according to an update on Friday of a Web site that tracks the road's progress.

The temporary highway stretches from the northern hub of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, across frozen lakes to link up four diamond mines.

In addition to a mine owned by Diavik, which itself is a joint venture of Rio Tinto and Harry Winston Diamond, the road services BHP's Ekati mine, De Beers Canada's Snap Lake mine, and Tahera Diamond's Jericho mine.

Tahera recently suspended mining at Jericho as it restructures its operations.

Typically, the winter road is open from late January until early April. Lightly loaded trucks require about 28 inches of ice thickness to cross the lakes, while super tankers carrying loads of up to 140,000 pounds need 42 inches.

Last year, nearly 11,000 loads were transported on the road, but fewer are expected this year.

(Reporting by Cameron French; Editing by Peter Galloway)