Ottawa is inviting public feedback for how its new regional assessment process for the Ring of Fire should take shape.
The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (formerly the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency) is inviting individuals, communities, and organizations to help them draft the terms of reference for this upcoming comprehensive study in the James Bay region.
They want stakeholder input on what should be the particular areas of focus in the assessment of the mineral-rich region slated for mine development as early as 2025.
The terms of reference set out the parameters and the general work plan for the agency, or possibly an appointed commitee, for how the assessment will be done. The resulting document will outline the study area, the various factors to be considered, along with the study timelines and other pertinent details.
Last February, Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson called for a regional impact assessment of the area, 540 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, based on requests made to him last fall by Aroland First Nation, Wildlife Conservation Society Canada and Osgood Environmental Justice and Sustainability Clinic.
Because the remote, greenfield area - which has never seen industrial development before - has the potential to host multiple mines that could operate for generations, Ottawa wanted to go beyond the individual project assessment process and take a wider look of the cumulative effects of development in a larger, regional sense.
A similar process is underway on Canada's East Coast, studying the potential impact of exploratory oil and gas drilling off Newfoundland and Labrador.
The federal government formed a committee last April to carry out a regional assessment of the proposed area for offshore wells, covering 735,000 square kilometres off Newfoundland's east coast.
For the Ring of Fire, it hasn't been determine how expansive the study area will be. The agency is asking the Ontario government, Indigenous groups, other federal authorities, non-governmental organizations, and the general public to help determine that.
The deadline for taking submissions and receiving all feedback is Jan. 21, 2021.
Due to the challenges associated with COVID-19 to undertake meaningful consultation, the agency is staging virtual information sessions to provide information on how the regional assessment will work.
The sessions will take place Nov. 24 and Nov. 26 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.(EST) on both days. For information how to participate email the agency at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Comments can also be submitted online through the project home page.
All input received will be published on the Canadian Impact Assessment Registry (reference number 80468) as part of the regional assessment file.
"The agency recognizes that it is more challenging to undertake meaningful public engagement and Indigenous consultation in light of the circumstances arising from COVID-19," the agency said in a Nov. 12 statement.
"The agency continues to assess the situation with key stakeholders, make adjustments to engagement activities, and is providing flexibility as needed in order to prioritize the health and safety of all Canadians, while maintaining its duty to conduct meaningful engagement with interested groups and individuals."
The Ontario government has its own environmental assessment studies and planning track underway on the routes leading into the Ring of Fire, specifically the north-south ore haul road and the shorter supply road leading directly into the mineral camp. The First Nation communities with territorial claims along the routes are the designated project proponents.