City officials were stunned Wednesday evening, following the announcement by Cliffs Natural Resources it was suspending all work on its massive Ring of Fire chromite project, including work on a billion-dollar smelter near Capreol.
“The company determined that it will not allocate additional capital for the project given the uncertain timeline and risks associated with the development of necessary infrastructure to bring this project online,” Cliffs said in the release.
“We continue to believe in the value of the mineral deposits and the potential of the Ring of Fire region for Northern Ontario. As we’ve assessed the current challenges in the region and the costs to continue on the current path, we decided to suspend the Chromite Project indefinitely,” Bill Boor, senior vice-president, is quoted as saying.
“Unfortunately, we will reduce the project team staffing and close our Thunder Bay and Toronto offices, as well as the exploration camp site. “We understand this is a hardship for our employees and their families. During this transition, we will be working with this talented team of professionals to explore other opportunities at Cliffs.”
Already faced with difficult negotiations with First Nations communities near the northwestern Ontario site, Cliffs was dealt a huge blow recently when it lost its fight to access land owned by another mining company to build a road to the site.
Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk said she was shocked by the announcement.
“It took me totally by surprise,” Matichuk said. “I understand it’s a business decision, but I’m very, very disappointed.”
Matichuk said the city has done everything it can to make the smelter a reality, but said Cliffs is clearly exasperated by the lack of progress and apparently didn’t want to keep spending money on a project with so much uncertainty.
“You can only bleed money from a company for so long,” she said.
There will be a meeting tomorrow at city hall about the Cliffs announcement, but Matichuk said the city can only do much — the next steps must be taken by the federal and provincial governments.
She said everyone has known there were problems moving forward with the Ring of Fire, which is why she has been pushing for action from the province.
“And those problems have just escalated.”
But considering the value of the development for Ontario, she said it’s too important not to succeed.
“So it’s important not to lose hope.”
Ward 7 Coun. Dave Kilgour, whose ward includes Capreol, said Wednesday’s bombshell took him by surprise.
“Complete shock and disbelief,” is how he describes his reaction. “All the recent conversations we’ve had with Cliffs, they gave no indication they were going in this direction.”
He said lack of consistent action from upper levels of government contributed to the problems, and “that has put the entire project at risk.
“So the next steps will have to be from the provincial and federal governments to get this back on track,” Kilgour said. “This project is critically important to all of Ontario and Canada.”
Cliffs said it will end all work by the end of the fourth quarter of “and there is no restart date planned.”