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Local leaders tout progress on lithium refining

Thunder Bay’s municipal leaders say they emerged from a recent AMO conference optimistic the city could host a second lithium processing plant

THUNDER BAY — Local leaders have come back from a conference of Ontario municipalities expressing enthusiasm over the province’s commitment to growing the lithium refining industry in Thunder Bay.

City councillors called that a potentially game-changing step for the city’s economy during a press conference debriefing the Thunder Bay delegation’s recent trip to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario annual conference, which was held this week in London.

Coun. Shelby Ch’ng, vice-chair of the city’s intergovernmental affairs committee, expressed particular excitement over discussions with provincial ministers regarding cleanup of contaminated former industrial lands in Thunder Bay’s north harbour, which she said has drawn interest as a potential lithium processing site.

Officials were referring to the former Superior Fine Papers mill site, located on the waterfront in Current River.

The site, which operated for decades under owners including Abitibi, Cascades and Thunder Bay Fine Papers, has been the subject of lawsuits and provincial cleanup orders.

On Wednesday, Ch’ng and other leaders said they saw signs the province could make resolving that issue a priority to spur industrial development.

“Minister Vic Fedeli was very keen on getting that economic development, and we're talking not in the millions, but in the billions of dollars,” Ch’ng said. “The Ministry of the Environment was very keen on cleaning up two brownfield sites that have been left, and streamlining some of the processes for permitting for the processing facility.”

With Avalon Advanced Materials moving to locate a separate lithium processing plant at a property further north, on Strathcona Avenue, Ch’ng described the industry’s potential impact on Thunder Bay’s economy as game-changing.

“I believe we're at the cusp of something great in Thunder Bay with not just one mining facility, but multiple mining facilities looking to set up [here] as their headquarters and their processing facilities,” she said.

“We are poised to really take Thunder Bay up a number of notches. We're not just talking, you know, one or two per cent growth; we're talking major growth.”

Coun. Kristen Oliver echoed that lofty rhetoric, saying the provincial government is recognizing Thunder Bay could play a key role in the province’s economic future.

“For all of the criticisms that sometimes Northern Ontario seems to be forgotten, I would say that is certainly not the case,” she said. “We are definitely on the radar, front and centre, especially as we look to how we're transitioning into more of an electric world and recognizing that the minerals that are needed to do that are up here in Northern Ontario.

“We likely will be leading the GDP growth of this province and this nation at some point as we see more development in that.”

Oliver, the chair of the city's intergovernmental affairs committee, said the city will work with the Ministry of Environment to move remediation work forward.

“We do know that there is great interest in that area already, but with the current state of the land, it is posing some questions. Once we get that cleaned up and mobilized, I think we'll see some quick movement.”

— TBnewswatch