Nahanni Construction’s engineer-in-training Mikkel Holt. Photo courtesy of Mikkel Holt.
“It’s a crap shoot deciding what you want to do as an inexperienced teenager”

From extreme weather to muskox

Engineer-in-Training Mikkel Holt Enjoys Career Choice

By Beverly Cramp

While attending high school in the Town of Athabasca, Mikkel Holt excelled at mathematics and science. Engineering seemed a natural career choice. However, it wasn’t until he actually began university that he knew he had found his calling. “I got lucky when I enrolled as an 18-year-old right out of high school in engineering at the University of Alberta,” says Holt looking back. “It’s a crap shoot deciding what you want to do as an inexperienced teenager.” Holt’s first year classes were general in nature, giving him the opportunity to learn the basics of the main areas of mining. By his second year, Holt was specializing in the reclamation of mine sites, which is the restoration of land where mining activities have occurred. It involves the restoration of ecosystems and returning environments to their pre-mine productivity. After graduation from the University of Alberta, Holt was hired in June 2017 as an engineer-in-training with Nahanni Construction Ltd. He’s currently engaged as a project engineer for reclamation at the Lupin Mine site in Nunavut, a former gold operation that shut down in 2004. Holt finds the work rewarding. “It’s a great feeling knowing the work we do makes a big impact on the habitat for wildlife and people who will use this area in the future,” he says. A typical day for Holt may start with evaluating survey data from the mine site to ensure that the work being done is in compliance with the overall reclamation design. It is not unusual that corrections have to be made because landscapes are always changing and elevation levels can shift. Reclamation design documents must be amended to reflect the new data using special software. These changes can lead to the need for workplans to be updated and Holt follows up by evaluating the cost of any such work changes. “If extra work is required that is not in our design plans, those changes have to be made,” says Holt. “It is not uncommon because there can be a lot of instability in old mining landscapes and infrastructure.” Holt also does regular geotechnical inspections, whether it is examining a dam or a cover

over an old tailings site, to ensure that the reclamation work meets the geotechnical specifications required by law.

Many Moving Parts

“There’s a lot going on within each project at each site.” Working in the North comes with other unique challenges, not the least of which is the climate. “Weather conditions are always changing,” says Holt. “You have to be prepared for working in extreme cold to the other extreme end such as the heat wave we had last March. The sudden warming affected the road to our site, making it difficult to transport materials in.” Holt recalls working in cold weather with a punishing windchill equivalent to -86 degrees Celsius. Nonetheless, he says he enjoys work in Northern Canada and travelling around the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in helicopters, float planes and other small aircraft. From vantages high in the sky, Holt is able to observe much that he wouldn’t normally see, such as wildlife specific to the North. “I saw my first muskox this summer. It was really exciting,” he says.

As mine reclamation takes place over many years, Holt recognizes that he won’t always be able to see the fruits of his work. But recently he had the opportunity to work at Tundra Mine, a former gold mine located 240 km northeast of Yellowknife. Mine operations ceased in the mid-1980s and it fell to the federal government to remediate when the owner, Royal Oak Mines Inc., went bankrupt. Remediation had been underway for over 15 years when Nahanni construction was contracted to finish the job. Holt was part of the team doing the work. “We did the final closure,” he says. “I saw a lot of change and it was very rewarding to go from 75 per cent completion to final closure and eventually leave the site. I want to keep on enacting change like this and doing good environmental work.” MN

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