The province's plans to build a year-round access road to the Ring of Fire mineral development in northwestern Ontario is good for this area, too, says Sudbury's MPP, despite the distance between the deposit and the Nickel City.
Glenn Thibeault, who's also the province's energy minister, spoke to Sudbury press at a media conference held at Cambrian College after listening in on the livestream of the Aug. 21 provincial announcement.
He said he continues to advocate with Noront Resources Ltd., the main industry player in the area, to locate its chromite smelter in Sudbury.
No matter what, Sudbury will benefit, he said.
“The benefits to Sudbury will continue to unfold as we see this development,” he said.
“We are the experts in terms of mining, and as we see the development unfold, our expertise is going to be needed. So there'll always be lots of benefits in terms of utilizing our skills and expertise in the mining sector.”
The province announced it's working with Webequie, Marten Falls and Nibinamik First Nations to plan and construct a year-round access road into the proposed mining development site being pursued by Noront Resources Ltd.
As part of this project, the province is also working with First Nations to build all-season access roads to their communities. The roads will link the three communities to the provincial highway system for the first time, meaning within a few years it will be possible to drive in and out of those remote communities by car, something that's never been possible before.
Ontario will support First Nations to plan and construct an east-west road connecting the Webequie and Nibinamik communities to the provincial highway network north of Pickle Lake. This project would provide all-season access to both First Nations communities as well as into the Ring of Fire development.
The province is also supporting Marten Falls First Nation to plan and construct an access road connecting the community to the existing provincial highway network at Aroland/Nakina.
Communities are working to begin environmental assessments of these projects by January 2018, and plan to begin construction in 2019, pending all necessary approvals.
As a next phase, Ontario will continue to support Marten Falls to undertake further technical and environmental studies that could inform planning and development of a north-south access road tied to the development of, and business case for, chromite mining in the Ring of Fire.
“I've looked forward to this day coming for some time, as have many of the people here today,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said at the announcement, held in Thunder Bay.
“We're moving forward with our plan to unlock one of the biggest mineral development opportunities in almost a century, and we're taking that step together with First Nation partners.”
Wynne said she's been criticized for not moving quickly enough on the project, but said it was important to get it right.
The province has put $1 billion on the table to support the development. Responding to a question from Thunder Bay media, Wynne said the province is no longer waiting for the federal government to step up and provide its share.
While they're still hopeful, “we are going to move ahead regardless of their commitment,” she said.
Speakers at the Thunder Bay media conference also talked about the important role the road could play in solving some of the problems these remote First Nations have been experiencing.
Chief Cornelius Wabasse of the Webequie First Nation said his community has issues with overcrowded and deteriorating housing.
“We have a lot of issues in our communities we need to address,” he said. “I look forward, with developments in our area, to how we can address some of the issues our area faces on a daily basis.”
In a press release, Noront said the timeframe released by the government allows Noront to advance its pre-development work and ready itself for the three-year construction of its Ring of Fire Eagle's Nest nickel, copper, platinum group metal mine.
"Today's announcement by Premier Kathleen Wynne and the chiefs of Webequie, Marten Falls and Nibinamik First Nations is a major step forward that will re-energize development of the Ring of Fire region," said Noront President and CEO Alan Coutts, in the press release.
"Construction of all-season industrial and community access roads is one of the key things we've been working toward with the government and our First Nation partners. I am very pleased to see it moving forward."