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The Ontario government is establishing a development corporation to build infrastructure and settle all the squabbling in the Ring of Fire.
Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle announced Friday in Thunder Bay that the province is “taking action” to move forward on infrastructure development for the mining companies and First Nation communities in the James Bay lowlands.
But Ottawa needs to come to the table, he said. “My intention is, and always has been, to drive this project forward,” said Gravelle. “We are going to invest in this vital piece of infrastructure. But we really need the federal government to join us.”
Mineral exploration of the vast chromite and nickel deposits in the Ring has stalled largely because of a lack of government direction on how to develop road or rail access to this future mining camp, 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.
Cliffs Natural Resources, the largest mining player in this remote region, halted the environmental assessment of its Big Thor chromite deposit and is reassessing its future following a recent Ontario Mining and Lands Commissioner’s ruling that denied the Ohio miner overland access to its deposit atop the mining claims of a rival company.
Gravelle acknowledged the tribunal’s decision and the “divergent…interests” among the mining companies prompted the government to take action.
“We need to get people in to work and goods out to the global market,” said Gravelle. “Currently there are a variety of proposals for infrastructure development. They propose different corridors and different modes of transportation, but in the end, they all lead to the same place.”
The development corporation is designed to bring First Nations, the miners, and government to the table to work out the development’s infrastructure and financing needs.
Gravelle said the vast mineral potential in the Ring of Fire will create thousands of jobs and boost Ontario’s economy for years to come, but added it’s a “complex undertaking” in a remote part of Ontario that’s never seen development before.
“We will reach out to our partners immediately to ensure work starts today. This project is, simply put, too important.”
Gravelle called on the feds to work with Ontario.
“Various federal ministers of the Crown have been telling us they are committed to working with us, and that they will make the necessary investments to support Northern Ontario, and make this project a reality. Well, the time has come for the federal government to step up.
“They’ve done it in Alberta with the oil sands, in Newfoundland with a $6-billion dollar hydro-electric project and elsewhere like B.C. They need to place the same amount of significance in northern Ontario as the Wynne government does, as we all here do.”
Cliffs was encouraged to see Queen’s Park take a leadership role in the planning and financing of infrastructure in the Ring.
“We have worked hard to build positive relationships with First Nations and mining companies in the region, and welcome the opportunity to work with those partners and governments at both the federal and provincial level to advance our project,” said the company in a statement.
“Without infrastructure, none of the projects currently proposed or imagined in the region will become a reality, so it is important that we move swiftly to establish that infrastructure in a way that is sustainable, responsible, and benefits local communities.”
KWG CEO Frank Smeenk was delighted to have received an invitation to be a corporate stakeholder.
“This is a model that we discussed early on with Chief Elijah Moonias of Marten Falls and more recently with Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Stan Louttit and Nishnawbe Aski Grand Chief Harvey Yesno,” said Smeenk in a statement.
“Premier Wynne’s approach to Prime Minister Harper is also a very productive step forward given the complimentary jurisdictional tools available to both our provincial and national governments. We very much look forward to participating in this initiative.”
KWG set up a subsidiary corporation, Canada Chrome, to study the logistics of moving Ring of Fire chromite out by rail. The Toronto junior is supporting an inland port authority concept being championed by the unions of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission to make the publicly-owned railroad the exclusive carrier in the Ring of Fire.
Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk applauded Gravelle, and herself, for the creation of the development corporation following a motion she tabled calling on Queen’s Park to work with all stakeholders to resolve issues on a Ring of Fire transportation corridor.
“I am pleased that Minister Gravelle took my lead and stepped up by getting everyone to the table to resolve the outstanding issues,” she said in a statement. “It is imperative that we work together on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create jobs and growth.”
Sudbury was named by Cliffs as the future site for a ferrochrome refinery to process chromite ore coming from its Black Thor project.