News Local

Ring of Fire bogged down in bickering

By Len Gillis

FedNor Minister, Greg Rickford offered his opinions on the state of the Ring of Fire project last week.

FedNor Minister, Greg Rickford offered his opinions on the state of the Ring of Fire project last week.

The much vaunted Ring Of Fire mining development is bogged down in bureaucratic studies along with bickering over where to build a new road, or rail link, to what is clearly the newest, richest and most promising mining development in Ontario so far this century.


That was part of the assessment offered last week at an impromptu news scrum with federal Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford, the MP for Kenora and the minister for FedNor. But Rickford also said he is still hopeful the project will blossom.


The Ring Of Fire refers to a massive deposit of chromite and other precious minerals located in the McFauld’s Lake and Webequie area, about 600 kilometres northwest of Timmins. Chromite is an important element in manufacturing stainless steel. The Ring of Fire area could become the largest chromite mining site in North America, a venture measured in the tens of billions of dollars.


The project involves KWG Resources Inc., which has the Eagle’s Nest property, and Noront Resources, which has the Big Daddy project. They are the two major players involved. Both are Canadian. Another large company, Cliff’s Natural Resources, an American company, was supposed to be the big player in the development, but it pulled out last year, saying it could not get rights to build a transportation link, nor could it get infrastructure concessions from Queen’s Park.

Speaking in Timmins Tuesday, Rickford said it has become obvious that the private sector is not willing to move forward on the development at this time.


“Obviously the Ring Of Fire and the platinum group of metals represents an opportunity at some point,” Rickford told reporters. “The market has had trouble of getting to the point where any company can justify moving ahead very quickly with an extractive exercise.


“But as I have always said, the real economic legacy is actually setting up the infrastructure for this. And that’s what we’ve been focused on. The Build Canada fund is intended to focus on infrastructure projects.”


Rickford did not specifically throw darts at Queen’s Park, but he said the Ring of Fire development corporation set up by the Liberals last summer is not working. That agency is run by four senior public servants.


“The devco is a policy option but unfortunately failing to consult with the federal government and First Nations on what that would look like has been difficult,” said Rickford. “Having the board populated by senior Ontario bureaucrats is not an option for any of the stakeholders that I have talked to so far.


“That’s what we’ve heard from First Nations communities and from business,” he said.


Rickford said much work needs to be done on such things as pre-planning, engineering, road building and electrical infrastructure for many of the smaller towns and First Nations communities in the area.


“We are hopeful that the province is coming on board and turning its mind to specific projects that have the value-added, if you will, of connecting First Nations communities and smaller towns and cities in and around the Ring Of Fire, to be involved in and accessible to the Ring Of Fire.”

He said his office has been in touch recently with Ontario Northern Development Minister Michael Gravelle and he is hoping to see smaller projects in specific communities move forward in support of the larger project.


“We’ve have some positive discussions quite recently about a direction where will identify specific projects.”


As an example, Rickford said that in a partnership with Thunder Bay’s Confederation College and the Matawa tribal council, more than 200 Aboriginal people will be graduating with certificates of higher education this year.


He added another issue that needs to be resolved is that many of the smaller communities, including First Nations communities, are insisting on new transportation links connecting to any north-south link with the Ring Of Fire. He said if those communities are to reap any economic benefits, they have to be included in the development.

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