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Timmins could still host Noront chromite smelter, mayor says

George Pirie believes the scales could tip in Timmins' favour over the next six years.
2019-05-07 Noront Timmins MH
Timmins Mayor George Pirie responds to Noront's decision to build the new ferrochrome processing plant in Sault Ste. Marie. (Maija Hoggett/TimminsToday)

Noront choosing Sault Ste. Marie as the site for its ferrochrome smelter is disappointing, but not a 'cause for dismay', according to Timmins Mayor George Pirie.

A couple of hours after Noront made its announcement in Sault Ste. Marie on May 7, Pirie responded during a press conference at the Timmins Economic Development Corp.

“We don’t think that it’s a cause for dismay," Pirie said. "It’s disappointment, but there’s lots of work yet to be done."

He’s confident the smelter could still end up in Timmins.

“We believe that this is just the first step," Pirie said.

"We believe that there’s lots of time to effect this decision, simply because Noront will not be the company that builds this facility. They’ll need a partner with far deeper pockets, and Glencore would be an example of a partner like that, although there’s others."

Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie were the final two Northern Ontario cities in the running for the $1-billion ferrochrome smelter.

Timmins’ bid was to put the facility at the former Kidd Creek Metallurgical Site, where the last smelter was permitted in 1980.

Xstrata Copper closed the smelter and refinery in 2010, but the property is used by Glencore for the nearby Kidd base metal mine, which is expected to close in 2022.

At the announcement in Sault Ste. Marie, Noront president and CEO Alan Coutts said in the final analysis, Timmins had slightly lower capital costs, while Sault Ste. Marie had lower operating costs.

“When we factored in the potential 100-year life of the operation, the lower operating cost clearly tipped the balance in favour of Sault Ste. Marie,” Coutts said.

With his experience as a mining executive, Pirie said operating costs can continue to be improved on.

“I don’t think we lost it...I think we keep on working to get it," Pirie said. "I think our site is the best site. I think that this is an announcement that allows Noront to essentially market a little bit easier."

The smelter will process chrome ore deposits from the Ring of Fire into ferrochrome to export to the American stainless steel market.

With rail connections to ports in Québec and the mid-U.S., Pirie said Timmins "provides a great deal of flexibility to reach all markets in the world."

"Right now, Noront is focusing their marketing efforts on the smelters in the mid-western United States," he said. "I think that leaves them then relatively dependent on stroke of the pen of their president and the tariffs that are so readily applied."

Construction of the smelter won't start until mid-2025 and is expected to take about three years. 

The current timeline for the project follows:

  • in 2020, there will be a preliminary economic assessment of Noront's plan to bring chromite mined from the Ring of Fire's Blackbird chromite deposit to the Sault for processing;

  • in 2022, Noront will prepare a prefeasibility study and negotiate an updated tenancy agreement;

  • in 2024, the focus will be on a feasibility study and environmental assessment examining factors including meteorology, air quality, noise, vibration, light, geology, hydrology, geochemistry, terrestrial vegetation, wildlife, soil, aquatic environment, water, sediment quality and human impacts;

  • in 2025, further project permits and funding approvals will close with construction initiated;

  • in 2028, Sault Ste. Marie's new ferrochrome processing facility will be commissioned.

The Noront plant will directly employ between 300 and 500 people, along with more than 1,000 indirect jobs created through suppliers and other businesses.

- With files from SooToday