With development of the Ring of Fire seemingly stalled on all fronts, Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk is calling on the province to use its authority to get things moving again.
Specifically, Matichuk wants the government to ensure progress is made in building a transportation corridor linking the Black Thor site in remote northwestern Ontario to existing transportation networks.
“This is the holdup,” Matichuk said after a recent city council meeting. “I'm hoping (the province) can sit down with all the proponents and come up with a transportation corridor.”
The mayor's motion comes after a Sept. 10 ruling by Ontario's Mining and Lands Commission denying Cliffs Natural Resources access to land in the region so it could build a north-south road to its massive chromite discovery. Cliffs was seeking an easement to run a road on mining claims owned by junior miner KWG Resources.
KWG staked a string of claims atop a sandy ridge to set aside a corridor for a future railroad stretching 328 kilometres from its Big Daddy chromite deposit – of which Cliffs is a 70 per cent owner – to the Canadian National Railway's main line in northwestern Ontario. KWG supports creating a rail link to move the ore.
The ruling was a serious setback to Cliffs, which owns rights to the high-grade deposit that's estimated to contain 102 million tons of minerals. The company has announced plans to build a billion-dollar smelter in Capreol, but those plans are also on hold.
In addition to transportation, agreements with First Nations in the area must be reached, and there are issues over environmental assessments and electricity costs. The problems have led Cliffs to push back the project's startup date from 2015 to 2017, with more delays likely.
While some factors are beyond its control, Matichuk said the province can make a difference when it comes to the corridor. Her motion isn't aimed at favouring one company or another, she said, or to get involved in a legal dispute.
“This is a motion about the partners working together so court intervention is not needed at all,” Matichuk said. “You get everybody together, and you say, 'OK, what do you need? What do you want? How are we going to do this?'”
Historically, Matichuk said the province has taken the lead in developing and funding transportation networks. In Toronto, for example, Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government is the “driving force behind Metrolinx,” she said, adding the North deserves similar treatment.
“The North is not a second-class citizen to the south,” Matichuk said. “The Ring of Fire is crucial to the economic future of all of Ontario.”
She's consulted with other Northern mayors and people in the mining industry, and everyone agrees the province needs to make the Ring of Fire a priority.
Ward 5 Coun. Ron Dupuis suggested including northern MPPs in the motion to ensure they're aware of efforts to get the Ring of Fire moving. Other cities in the North should also be asked to pass the same motion, he said.
“We're more likely to be heard if we're all shouting the same thing,” Dupuis said. “It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity ... There's no two ways about it. And the only way we're going to get this going is to keep the pressure on the people in Toronto.”