THUNDER BAY -- The company holding rights to the biggest discoveries in the Ring of Fire continues to weigh the options for locating a future ferrochrome smelter.
Thunder Bay/Fort William First Nation, Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins and Sudbury all remain on the list, according to Noront Resources CEO Alan Coutts.
In an interview with Tbnewswatch, Coutts said the company continues to work with economic development agencies and municipal leaders in the four centres, and most recently paid visits to Sudbury and Timmins.
"We've largely gone through that first pass, and are narrowing things down a little bit...providing more information about what we're looking for from them and how we are going to decide."
Coutts said there is no leading contender for the project at this point.
"All the communities have done a very credible job of portraying their strengths. There is ample support for hosting the plant," he said.
Coutts said the smelter would cost in the order of $800 million and would employ about 275 people when completed.
But whether and when it ever gets constructed are outstanding questions.
According to Coutts, getting permits and approvals would be a lengthy process in itself.
Bringing ore out of the Ring of Fire for processing also requires an access road, which there is no commitment for as yet.
And negotiations with the province and First Nations about developing the rich ore deposits are ongoing.
Coutts said in a best-case scenario, it will be three to four years before nickel-copper from its Eagles Nest deposit can be shipped out. That ore would be processed in Sudbury.
It would be another two years after that to get the first chromite ore from another location in the Ring of Fire to a processing site.
Coutts said while he'd like to see action and decisions on the required infrastructure, he remains optimistic because "behind the scenes" he is hearing from a lot of people eager to see the Ring of Fire development move ahead.
He admitted that "We haven't seen much tangible action in the past while," but declined to point a finger.
"Trying to get consensus is difficult. It's a little bit industry's fault, it's a little bit government, a little bit First Nations. You just have to be patient."
In the meantime, exploration work continues. This summer, for the first time since it acquired Cliffs' holdings two years ago, Noront will begin exploring copper-zinc deposits in the McFaulds Lake area.