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Noront, Algoma Steel discussing ferrochrome plant tenancy fees

Construction of Ring of Fire road could begin in the spring thanks to co-operation with First Nations communities, minister says

Progress is being made on the Ring of Fire project, to be developed in northwestern Ontario.

That from Greg Rickford, Ontario’s minister of energy, Northern development and mines, who was in Sault Ste. Marie on Aug. 27 to deliver an update on the project to officials at Algoma Steel.

Toronto-based mining company Noront Resources announced May 7 it had chosen Sault Ste. Marie – after the city had engaged in a long, competitive bidding process with other communities – as the location for its new Ferrochrome Production Facility (FPF), to be located on Algoma Steel property.

It will process chrome ore from deposits Noront will be drawing from the Ring of Fire region, to be converted into ferrochrome for the U.S. stainless steel market.

Rickford was joined at the media conference by Sault MPP Ross Romano and Alan Coutts, Noront Resources' president and CEO.

Noront has signed memoranda of understanding with First Nations communities in the Ring of Fire area, Coutts said.

“Noront is in discussions with Algoma Steel on the terms of our company’s tenancy for the construction and operation of our planned FPF which would be located here, adjacent to the steelmaking operation," Coutts said.

"The signing of the agreement would result in Algoma receiving an equity position in the Noront project."

“There’ll be a fee for Noront’s tenancy on our property and it’s a way for us to dollarize, eventually, the value of some of the land we have, which is excess land, if you like. It’s good news for Algoma Steel,” said Algoma Steel CEO Michael McQuade.

“It’s another step forward after Sault Ste. Marie was selected to be the site. We certainly have the capacity at this site and it makes sense to share services and to have a property that fits the needs of Noront for the ferrochrome facility,” McQuade said.

The latest good news for the Ring of Fire project, Rickford said, is Indigenous communities in the Ring of Fire region, including Marten Falls, Webequie and Eabametoong (also known as Fort Hope) are interested in talking about the Ring of Fire road, with those communities deciding to undertake the required environmental assessments for the project.

“That’s the biggest difference here, and that’s what we’re celebrating,” Rickford said, speaking to SooToday.

“They’re leading that, and Ontario is prepared to be a co-proponent if necessary, but the good news is, so far we haven’t had to be. They want to lead this process and we’re now having discussions with those communities and new ones that are coming onboard to do the final segment, which is the northern link near Marten Falls north up to Webequie First Nation. Webequie obviously has a high interest in the project because it leads right into their community.”

“What Alberta has going on in the oil sector, we have going, potentially, in the mining sector. We’re taking a refreshing, renewed approach that’s inspired by the Indigenous leadership. They’re saying, ‘We want a road,’” Rickford said.

Regarding a timeline as to when construction of the Ring of Fire road could get underway, Rickford said, “the first phases of some of those environmental assessments finish up this winter.”

“We’re hoping we can start construction in the spring. The signals we’re getting from the Indigenous communities is ‘It’s time to build.’”

Rickford said the latest developments represent a breakthrough in the Ring of Fire project, which has undergone delays in its development.

“This is great news for the province, for the northern region, and certainly for Sault Ste. Marie and all First Nations that are a part of these negotiations," said Sault MPP Ross Romano.

"This is about disentangling the web of bureaucracy that was created by the previous framework and agreement and ensuring we take a common sense, pragmatic and practical approach to negotiating agreements moving forward so we can untap the vast economic potential that exists in the Ring of Fire."

While in the Sault in May, Coutts said Noront estimates construction of the ferrochrome production facility in the Sault will begin in 2025, and the plant should be up and running by 2028.

During construction, the project will employ up to 1,500 people, and once in operation, employ 300 to 500 people.

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