CHIBOUGAMAU, Que. — As the pace of construction at Quebec’s first diamond mine picks up, trucking companies are picking up a nice piece of the action. Over the two-year construction phase alone, the diamond mine site will receive around 2,000 trucks, according to Stornoway Diamond Corporation, which is developing the Renard diamond mine roughly 950 kilometres northwest of Quebec City. Stornoway intends to commission the mine in 2016 and begin commercial production in 2017.
“It is a nice project,” says Steve Lamontagne, general manager, Durocher Transport in Chibougamau, 420 kms south of the Renard mine. Durocher is one of Stornoway’s main transporters for the project.
“We have trucked all kinds of camp and building material, communications, metal and food. We truck for a lot of (contractors too),” Lamontagne says.
Northern Quebec has been a bit of a hotbed of mining exploration in the past few years. The government reported $958 million in mineral exploration and mining operations in 2009 and has forecasted that there will be 31 operating mines by 2015 and 35 by 2020. Unfortunately, the downturn in the prices for metals in the past couple of years has slowed the action, Lamontagne observes.
“Renard is the only mine construction in Quebec in 2014-2015. (The Renard mine) is good news for Chibougamau because nothing else is happening. Everything came to a halt last year; for example, expansion plans.”
The Renard project is still in motion though, and with it the trucks. In the two years preceding the opening of the 240-km extension of Route 167 from Temiscamie to the mine site in September 2013, Durocher logged a couple hundred trips to the mine site on ice roads. (The extension itself brought some excellent work to trucking companies, including the transport of a score of bridge beams and caissons). The extension now allows year-round road access. The mine site has huge material requirements; ie., accommodations for 600 workers.
“We have a total of 145 modules for the permanent camp, 48 for the temporary camp and 62 for the mine office building. In addition you need to add around 50 trucks for mobilizing, concrete blocks, woods, gyproc, furniture, ventilation, etcetera,” says Mario Courchesne, construction manager, Stornoway. Eighty-one more accommodation modules are scheduled for delivery this month.
The heavy construction equipment and plant components are another huge transportation effort. Trucks delivered 35 truckloads of equipment and supplies between April and July last year, followed by around 65 loads of heavy gear such as bulldozers, excavators, loaders and graders. Between Sept. 21 and Nov. 29, the mine site logged in 427 more trucks.
Renard also has a thirst for fuel, which is also trucked in. Last winter Petronor delivered between four and six 45,000-litre loads of fuel a week.
“After we are in production we will have between three and five 55-cubic-metre trucks of liquified natural gas per day from Montreal, two to three trucks per week of fuel for equipment fleets, one load every two months of gasoline and one truckload every three months of Jet-A fuel for the airplane,” Courchesne says. (Stornoway has an airstrip near the mine). For the Renard runs, Durocher uses two 15-litre Kenworth tractors outfitted with CB radios and mine frequency FM radios for communication with Stornoway. The tractors have full lock differentials. For grip and toughness Durocher outfitted the tractors with Continental tires with HDW2 treads and trailers with Continental tires with HSR2 treads. Stornoway recommends that trucks carry spare tires, a survival kit and satellite radio. Fuel additives are used because of the cold. The tractors always leave the Durocher terminal with full tanks.
“If you get stuck in a storm you could be there for 24 hours. You need heat. We have had a few trucks caught in snow storms, but it is no big deal,” Lamontagne explains.
Trucks need authorization from Stornoway to travel the last 97 kilometres of Route 167, which Stornoway built.
“Stornoway knows when we are coming and when to expect us. They monitor every movement. They need to know who is coming, the company number, driver’s name…if a truck is late, they start looking,” Lamontagne says.
Courchesne adds, “We have built the road wider and trucks can pass each other but we have restrictions on the bridges that are single lane.”
Lamontagne praises the Route 167 extension. “It is a nice road. It is not steep and the curves are wide. Stornoway worked very hard to get the road in perfect condition.” By the spring, Durocher will have even more tractors modified for Route 167, and will be moving a lot more loads to Renard. “Call back in three months and it will be a totally different story, when the construction of the mine starts, when they start bringing in all the next parts,” Lamontagne says. “There will be trucking like you wouldn’t believe. Not one truck a day, but 10.”