By Chris Marchand
In the week since Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the province’s endorsement of an East-West route to the far north ‘Ring Of Fire’ mining area, regional municipal leaders are split over how to interpret the situation
Dryden Mayor Greg Wilson says that he’s encouraged by talk of the proposed road to the mining area running through Pickle Lake and Hwy. 599, though he’s wary that the province has jumped the gun for political reasons, desperate to show some movement in the file while consensus among First Nations stakeholders is yet far from a reality.
“It’s mired in politics at a higher level, federally and provincially with the First Nations, because of the province’s rush to get something done for political timing“, said Wilson.
Last Monday, Ontario announced that they were supporting a First Nation proposal to plan and construct a year-round access road into the proposed mining development site being pursued by Noront Resources Ltd. and were working with Webequie, Marten Falls and Nibinamik First Nations to build all-season access roads to their communities.
By mid-week the leadership of Ring of Fire area remote communities Neskantaga and Eabametoong issued a statement calling the announcement premature as jurisdictional agreements have yet to be formed.
“The reality is that all the roads to the Ring of Fire traverse the territory of our Nations, and nothing is happening without the free, prior, and informed consent of our First Nations,” said Neskantaga Chief Wayne Moonias.
That kind of rhetoric emerging from the holdout Mattawa First Nations tempers Wilson’s enthusiasm for ‘Ring of Fire fever’.
“My personal opinion is that I am skeptical of something even happening in two years — mainly because it wasn’t in the province’s budget this year or for the next year. That’s why they had to make it for 2019. They don’t have the money and they’ll have to find it somewhere. I have the feeling that if we have a change of government, we’ll probably go back to square one. I don’t think that it’s going to make much of a difference for Dryden, at least right now. But the proof will be in the pudding.”
Communities such as Pickle Lake and Sioux Lookout are singing a much more hopeful tune, however.
Pickle Lake Mayor Karl Hopf says the two communities have been collaborating to get themselves in a position to capitalize on economic development opportunities that could arise from the building of the four-season access road.
Over the summer Sioux Lookout announced a partnership with Noront Resources, Morgan Fuels, First Mining Finance Corp., Township of Pickle Lake and CN Rail, identifying the location for a proposed Trans-load Facility to be built east of Sioux Lookout on #642.
In Pickle Lake, Hopf’s community sits at the staging area of a massive push to bring grid electricity to the far north.
“We’re trying everything we can with our economic development committee and town council,” said Hopf. “Along with the road there’s also W. Power (Wataynikaneyap) running power lines to 21 remote First Nations. Obviously those two projects going north of Pickle will have to coincide side-by-each. It wouldn’t make sense to not run a power line along the side of the road.”