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Northwest Territories politicians question Arctic highway spending

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

Politician Jane Groenewegen, the Member of the Legislative Assembly for the Northwest Territories riding of Hay River South, says the Government of Canada's Northwest Territories needs to take a sober second look at the proposed highway to the community of Tuktoyaktuk.

The Northwest Territories Finance Minister is asking for $2 million dollars more to study the proposed 140 kilometre gravel highway.

Groenewegen said supporters of the project are so passionate about it, "it's practically sacrilege" to question whether it is a good idea.

But she says that question needs to be asked. She says federal money alone isn't enough to justify spending on the mega project.

"That's like going to the store and buying something because it's on sale whether you need it or not," said Groenewegen. "It's still a huge contribution from our government regardless."

The federal government has pledged to contribute $150 million to the project.

But Groenewegen says territorial spending continues though the government has no clear idea of how much the highway will cost to build or maintain. Two and a half years ago, a cost-benefit analysis estimated the road would cost approximately $230 million to build.

Supporters in the Inuvik region say the project would be an economic boost for a region that has been languishing since the Mackenzie Gas Project has been on hold. They also say it will lower the cost of living for the people in Tuktoyaktuk and the surrounding communities.

But many in the Sahtu region say the section of the Mackenzie Valley Highway between the communities of Wrigley and Tulita - currently only an ice road -- should be the priority. They say that, with the exploration boom happening in their region, it makes more sense to spend money improving that highway.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.