OTTAWA – Just as the federal government strives to speed up environmental reviews of major mining and energy projects, approvals for the giant Ring of Fire proposal in northern Ontario are getting increasingly tangled.
On Monday, a key environmental group asked for provincial government mediation on how Cliffs Natural Resources plans to develop a giant chromite deposit in the fragile muskeg of the James Bay lowlands.
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society says Cleveland-based Cliffs is dramatically changing its plans for a mine without properly consulting with the public.
“Several major alterations have been incorporated at the last minute and without the benefit of public scrutiny,” the Wildlands League chapter of CPAWS says in a letter to Ontario Environment Minister Jim Bradley.
The letter says Cliffs is backing away from a long-term plan to do a combination of open-pit mining and underground mining, opting to stick with only open pit.
It also notes Cliffs is considering only a single route — a north-south road that would be heavily subsidized — to transport chromite ore out of the area, instead of considering other ways such, as an east-west corridor that could link First Nations to much-needed infrastructure.
At stake is the framework Cliffs has set up for Ontario regulators to examine the environmental implications of its proposal.
The company wants to invest more than $3 billion to build a chromite mine and processing facility, but it needs approval from both federal and provincial environment officials first, through separate processes. Last summer, it released terms of reference for the Ontario process, asking for feedback from the public.
Environmentalists and First Nations did indeed give their feedback, and not all of it was favourable.
When Cliffs revised its plan and handed a final version to Ontario in January, the company did not incorporate any of the public’s suggestions, CPAWS charges.
The environmental protection group’s request for mediation echoes concerns made last month by the Neskantaga First Nation, one of the bands located near the Ring of Fire.
“Our constitutionally protected aboriginal rights and title and treaty rights are not appropriately addressed in the amended terms of reference,” the Neskantaga letter to the minister says.
“Therefore numerous fundamental issues of concern arise on the amended terms of reference as submitted.”
Ontario officials say they are considering the letters but say that Cliffs would have to agree to any kind of mediation.
The federal process for the project is equally gummed up.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Winnipeg Free Press website: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/canada/environmental-approvals-for-ring-of-fire-mine-running-into-difficulty-199889661.html