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Few details on Ring of Fire road decision

Wait-and-see on province’s development plans
Ice bridge

Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle dropped few hints as to when the province expects to roll out plans for a Ring of Fire road access corridor, saying only it will happen “soon.”

After opening a government-hosted Mining Innovation Summit in Sudbury on Nov. 1, Gravelle said in a media scrum that the province remains “keen to see the project move forward” as discussions continue with four James Bay-area First Nations over a completed community service corridor study that will provide the basis for a decision on the road’s routing.

“It’s difficult to put timelines on decision-making other than to say that we are committed to carrying on that work. The conversations are at a very high level with the Matawa First Nations and we look forward to having something to report to you soon.”

The proposed all-weather road would connect four of the nine Matawa First Nations communities to the provincial highway system through Pickle Lake and Sioux Lookout, while giving the mining industry overland access to reach the mineral deposits in the Far North exploration camp.

Gravelle gave no details or timetable as to when an announcement is forthcoming or whether their plans will keep pace with Noront Resources’ schedule to start construction of its Eagle’s Nest nickel-copper mine in the remote region by 2018.

Noront released its Ring of Fire development plan last August with a restless president-CEO Al Coutts saying he had been expecting a joint federal-provincial funding announcement much sooner this year given his company’s project timetable and the year it will take to do detailed engineering and environmental work on a road corridor.

The company has tabled its own 280-kilometre-long Ring of Fire road proposal, which follows the winter road network extending east from Pickle Lake.

Gravelle responded he’s been close touch with Coutts and appreciates the significance of Noront’s project.

“We will be aiming toward seeing the project move forward as quickly as possible and that means working closely with Mr. Coutts and the federal government. We want to see the federal government’s participation as well.”

All the parties involved want to see progress, said Gravelle, but the government is committed to working with First Nations through this process, falling back on his often repeated mantra: “We need to do it the right way.”

At the same time, the province has been negotiating with Matawa on a regional framework agreement over the past two years, which will provide guidance on making future infrastructure decisions, ensure there are environment safeguards in place, and provide the communities with socio-economic benefits through vehicles such as resource revenue sharing.

Yet another Ring of Fire developer, KWG Resources, is hoping to lure Chinese investment to the Ring of Fire through a business arrangement with a state-owned railroad engineering firm working on a feasibility study for a north-south rail corridor.

Gravelle seemed to harbour few misgivings about the potential of foreign capital being used for mining-related infrastructure development purposes.

“We’re always looking for investment in the Ring of Fire. Certainly in relation to that particular project, we’ve been seeking to see a business plan in terms of that project moving forward.”