Still carrying a torch for the Ring of Fire – Lisa Wright (Toronto Star)

Lisa Wright is a business reporter with the Toronto Star, which has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on Canada’s federal and provincial politics as well as shaping public opinion. This article was originally published March 26, 2011.

For an extensive list of articles on this mineral discovery, please go to: Ontario’s Ring of Fire Mineral Discovery

Lisa Wright – Business Reporter (Toronto Star)

It has been described as the most significant base metals play in Canada since the lucrative Voisey’s Bay discovery in Labrador nearly 20 years ago.

The giant Ring of Fire deposit of chromite, nickel and copper — located in a remote corner of the James Bay lowlands — was first unveiled with fanfare in 2007. And it was highly touted in the Ontario throne speech last year as a cornerstone of the province’s future prosperity.

“It is the most promising mining opportunity in Canada in a century,” Lieutenant Governor David Onley said a year ago this month.

Superlatives aside, all the players involved have been going full tilt since then trying to get the Ring developed in an area twice the size of Prince Edward Island amid First Nations blockades and an extremely challenging environment that will require a major infrastructure build.

Cleveland-based Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. is aiming to get its $1.5 billion, world class chromite deposit developed in the Ring of Fire by 2015 to take advantage of skyrocketing metals prices. Chromite is a key ingredient in the manufacturing of stainless steel, making it more corrosion resistant.

Miners like Toronto-based Noront Resources Ltd. – one of the largest landholders in the exploration district — would love to see a financial commitment in Tuesday’s budget to get roads and power in place to build their nickel-copper Eagle’s Nest project, which is located on marsh and wetlands in the Ring.

The junior explorer is in the midst of a 10,000-metre drill program at the McFauld’s Lake epicentre of the Ring of Fire and can only conduct its drilling during the cold winter months. Wet ground conditions amid the muskeg make it impossible to complete the work when the warm weather hits.

They are recommending a 185-kilometre, all-season access road at a price tag of $225 million: a sum that just isn’t economic for a junior miner.

“It’s another Voisey’s Bay, so the project is an expensive undertaking,” says Noront chief executive Wes Hanson.

“The government hasn’t committed any funding to it, which is a bit problematic. It just doesn’t fly in terms of the economics for us to build the road,” he says.

But particularly given that it’s an election year and that Ontario’s manufacturing sector is still reeling from the effects of the economic downturn in 2008, he doesn’t expect any Ring of Fire funding announcements in this Tuesday’s provincial budget. And the government has pretty much telegraphed that it’s not planning to do much more than reaffirm its commitment to the development that is expected to be Canada’s next big mining camp.

“It’s a huge project and a complicated one,” says Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle in an interview.

“It’s an extremely high priority for the province of Ontario but there is still a great deal of work to do. And it needs to be managed correctly,” he notes of the site that is about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.

Christine Kaszycki, assistant deputy minister of the ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry, was appointed the province’s Ring of Fire coordinator last fall and has been working with mining companies to usher them through the complex pre-feasibility stage of the project, balancing competing economic interests with that of Aboriginal communities and the environment.

Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations communities had set up blockades in the area to ensure the mining companies get proper permitting before building and to get assurances of mining jobs once it’s in operation.

Marten Falls Chief Eli Moonias said his community dismantled their blockade on Koper Lake in the Ring of Fire earlier this month because discussions on basic exploration issues are now going ahead

“There’s no question that there is a goal to move the project forward on pretty aggressive timelines,” says Gravelle, noting Cliffs and Noront have targeted mine openings for 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Cliffs wants to build a 300-megawatt refinery and has told the government it will build the ferrochrome production facility in Ontario if they can negotiate an acceptable power rate.

“They have their sleeves rolled up and they’re trying to move it ahead,” says mining analyst Barry Allan of Mackie Research Capital.

“To say this is going to be an easy exercise would be wrong. It’s going to be a major infrastructure undertaking and they need to balance the interests of all the stakeholders,” says Allan.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website:–still-carrying-a-torch-for-the-ring-of-fire