Unlocking the wealth of Northern Ontario [Ring of Fire]- by Renald (Ron) Beaulieu and George Smitherman

Renald (Ron) Beaulieu is the Mayor of Greenstone
George Smitherman is a former Ontario Deputy Premier and Energy Minister

Discovery of the massive “Ring of Fire,” a chromite-rich mineral deposit in a remote area of Northern Ontario, is the first and perhaps easiest step in realizing the site’s potential. 

Mining the ore, then transporting it across the terrain of the Hudson Bay Lowlands will be challenging from an environmental and engineering standpoint.

Greater still is the challenge and responsibility of utilizing this resource in a way that advances the economic and social needs of our First Nation peoples whose traditional and reserve territories stand to be significantly impacted. The First Nation peoples living in the area have made it clear that they expect minerals extracted from their traditional territories to be refined nearby.

Early this fall, the Municipality of Greenstone released a discussion paper showing how the volume of electricity required by a ferro-chrome refinery can be delivered to Exton Siding (near Nakina on the CN railway) adjacent to Aroland First Nation and within Matawa’s traditional land base in a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way.

This “Made-in-Greenstone” approach is also being called the “NW Ontario Kick Start” proposal. The discussion paper was consciously designed to maximize the social and economic progress for all NW Ontario residents. This is accomplished by proposing an electricity grid strong enough to serve Ring of Fire refining demands, provide electricity to support mining and forestry operations and the opportunity for transitioning First Nations communities off diesel generated power.

Locating the refinery at Exton, at the base of a proposed north south transportation corridor (rail and/or road), means ore would be refined close to the mine site. This means lower transportation costs and related pollution. Refining ore close to the mine site minimizes environmental impacts, while maximizing social and economic benefit for those most impacted by mining activity.

We believe that the opportunity associated with developing the electricity infrastructure required to support a new mine site and refinery must be used to spark benefits across the Region.

Our grid expansion proposal creates a loop that starts in Nipigon, goes through Nakina and picks up Little Jackfish en route to Pickle Lake.  From there it connects to Ignace or Dryden.

As you can imagine, the proposal speaks to providing stable electricity in this broad zone.  Communities as far away from Greenstone as Red Lake will benefit. This includes First Nation communities and municipalities such as Greenstone, Sioux Lookout, Pickle Lake, Ignace, Dryden and Nipigon. We know that plentiful and reliable electricity will mean new economic opportunities through expansions and startups in the manufacturing, mining and forestry sectors across the whole Region.

The “Made-in-Greenstone” model offers First Nations communities new opportunities to promote renewable energy such as the proposed Little Jackfish Hydro-electric project, as well as wind and solar resources and ownership of transmission lines.

Please take the time to read the “NW Ontario kick start” report on the Greenstone website http://bit.ly/vnW31Y. We think you will agree that it offers a positive approach to processing the Ring of Fire minerals in an environmentally sustainable way, while providing the greatest economic and social benefit, to the entire Region.

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