A First Nation community is breaking new ground in leading the environmental assessment and consultation process on a proposed short supply road to the Ring of Fire.
Webequie First Nation, the closest fly-in community to the James Bay mineral belt, is hosting a series of public information sessions in Thunder Bay this week to share information with the public about the road project and to gather feedback.
It’s part of the early stages of a larger environmental assessment (EA) process that’s underway for a planned 107-kilometre all-season road between the Webequie Airport and the area around McFaulds Lake, better known as the Ring of Fire, 535 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.
The road would facilitate the movement of materials, supplies and people into the exploration and future mining camp.
All the public comments received will be incorporated into the terms of reference – or guidelines – by which the EA process will be carried out.
“This is the first environmental assessment in Ontario to be led and driven by a First Nation under the new Federal Impact Assessment Act,” said Webequie Chief Cornelius Wabasse in a news release.
Beginning on the afternoon and evening of Oct.9, his Webequie project team will explain the EA process and the draft terms of reference, which includes details about the project’s framework, work plan, and outlines the studies conducted, consultation activities, and a review of the potential environmental effects.
The venue is the Victoria Inn Hotel and Conference Centre on Arthur Street in Thunder Bay.
The news release said this consultation and engagement process follows the community’s own three-tier approach to economic development that revolves around the principles of community first, overall well-being, and preserving Indigenous culture.
“As a community, we are taking every measure to be proactive, transparent and collaborative in this process; respecting our people, our lands and our relationships,” stated Wabasse.
“The focus is to assess development opportunities while practicing our First Nation Environmental Stewardship responsibilities to ensure both land protection and economic benefits.”
He cautioned this open house and this part of the EA process is specific only to the road, not the mining projects.
“It’s important to emphasize that this project is NOT an environmental assessment for the Ring of Fire mining developments or for a road connecting to the provincial road network. This is exclusively a potential supply road connecting Webequie First Nation to the area where mineral exploration and mining developments are occurring within close proximity to our community.”
What’s being planned is a two-lane gravel road, 35 metres wide with enough room to accommodate power line and broadband fibre.
Webequie First Nation is the designated road proponent, which would connect the community to the companies performing mine development work and exploration activity.
Noront Resources, the largest claim holder, has a schedule to begin building the first of its string of nickel and chromite mines in 2021 to be ready to begin commercial production by 2024.
Webequie is one of two First Nation road project proponents pertaining to the Ring of Fire.
The other is Marten Falls, to the south, which is working with AECOM on a separate EA process and preliminary engineering for the first leg of a longer north-south road to connect the remote community to the provincial highway system in the Nakina-Aroland First Nation area in northwestern Ontario.
Depending on the route chosen and a myriad of other variables, the road could range in length from 140 to 250 kilometres.
Construction could take five to 10 years and 15 to 50 bridges could be installed. The road would be two-lane gravel and built within a 100-metre right-of-way clearance to a width of 60 metres.
The road would also tie into a future railway transload facility near Nakina to move Ring of Fire ore out by train for processing in Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.
Details of the last leg of the access road across the Albany River into the future mining camp have yet to be announced by the provincial government.
The deadline to take public comments on the supply road is Oct. 16.
For more details on the project go online at www.supplyroad.ca