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By Chris Marchand
An east-west route to the Ring of Fire mining area via Pickle Lake, a potential economic boon to the Northwest, will finally be examined for its merits over the next year.
At this week’s Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) International Conference, FedNor Minister and Canadian Minister of Natural Resources, Greg Rickford, along with Ontario Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle, announced a joint investment of more than $785,000 to fund a study examining the benefits of developing an all-season transportation corridor connecting First Nation communities in the area with existing roadways, enabling them to capitalize on opportunities related to resource development in the region, including the Ring of Fire.
The study will be launched by Webequie First Nation, in partnership with the First Nations of Eabametoong, Neskantaga and Nibinamik.
The remote mineral deposit, touted as a project in the same scope as Alberta’s Oil Sands, has seen its share of setbacks in recent years and the question of how to access the Far North area has played a role. The project’s most notable proponent, Cliffs Resources Ltd., who advocated a route running straight north from the CN Rail line near Nakina, has walked away from the project, cancelling its environmental assessment after the province refused to expropriate the lands needed to build their proposed access road from a rival exploration firm.
Rickford says that day-to-day corporate intrigue aside, he believes the area will eventually see development and that investments in infrastructure development are money well spent.
“The platinum group of metals continue to increase annually by about five per cent or more, so we do expect over the medium-term that one or more of the extraction sites will proceed,” said Rickford.
At the moment, nickel miners Noront Resources are the area’s major players. Noront have long advocated for what’s known as the ‘east-west’ route, a four-season road to be built as an extension to Windigo Rd. off the end of Hwy. 599, which ends at Pickle Lake.
The route holds significant potential for tying in infrastructure projects, such as the electrical grid, with a number of First Nations.
“These aren’t just road options,” said Rickford. “Some of the biggest challenges we have for resource development in Northern Ontario and in the isolated communities is electricity. These options will chart a path forward to solutions to diesel (power) generation. They hold great potential for supplying a better, stronger energy source for mine sites when they are developed.”
Rickford says the region’s municipal leaders are applauding the study.
“It’s now going to put Pickle Lake, Ignace, Sioux Lookout, Dryden and certainly Thunder Bay all into play,” said Rickford. “There are still other transportation corridor options open, they are not currently under any significant study. I’m glad to see the east-west corridor take the first bold step, moved forward by First Nations communities. This would tie Northwestern Ontario, more fairly into the Ring Of Fire.”
The study to evaluate several road access options in a variety of criteria will be conducted over a timeline of one year. The final step in the process will be to try to achieve consensus among the partner communities on the preferred option.
“In the modern day, resource development projects, including the infrastructure projects to support them — communities have to be consulted,” said Rickford. “What the professional companies involved present as a final road option will have met the tests of consultation, of economic and environmental considerations and community objectives. It’s a one-stop shop approach. It’s much more than just a study.”