[Thunder Bay] Ring of Fire session jam-packed – Chronicle-Journal (June 23, 2011)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

Those looking for a piece of the Ring of Fire mining project action crammed a Thunder Bay conference hall on Wednesday while a small group of employees who walked off the job at the mining camp protested outside the Valhalla Inn.

The Ring of Fire infrastructure conference has brought “a wide range of different parties together,’’ said Christine Kaszycki, the province’s Ring of Fire co-ordinator and assistant deputy Northern Development, Mines and Forestry minister.

“First Nations, municipalities, provincial and federal government agencies, and environmental groups as well, to really begin doing some collective thinking, particularly the infrastructure requirements in the far north,” are in the city for the conference, she said.

Kaszycki said the goal is to get a grip on the key considerations for the project, identify common ground and start thinking about short-, medium- and long-term goals.

The Ring of Fire, located in the James Bay Lowlands 535 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, is the location of a chromite deposit whose development is expected to cost $1.5 billion and create opportunities for Northern Ontario communities, First Nations and business.

Ontario has the potential to become the only North American supplier of chromite, which is used to produce stainless steel and other products. Mineral development in the Ring of Fire could mean thousands of jobs in construction and in mine operations, including significant economic opportunities for First Nations.

It’s early in discussions, but Kaszycki said the most active companies in the Ring of Fire development have different proposals for transportation infrastructure.

Noront Resources, for example, is looking into building an all-weather road east toward Pickle Lake. Cliffs Natural Resources has proposed a north-south corridor. KWG is focusing on a rail line development running north-south.

“We have three very different proposals on the table,” Kaszycki said. “The companies will be talking about their proposals (today) and looking to see if there are some collaborative approaches.”

Northern Development, Mines and Forestry Minister Michael Gravelle is to deliver a keynote address on the development today.

The time frame for construction is ambitious and short, Kaszycki said, noting it’s hoped operations will start in 2013.

Meanwhile, mining camp workers employed by Cliffs and who walked off the job late last week held a quiet demonstration outside the hotel.

Representative Harry Baxter Sr. said they were there to show conference delegates, companies and the public that all is not well in the Ring of Fire.

Baxter said the workers “have no benefits, no safety standards, no insurance.”

He said more than two dozen camp workers walked off the job, protesting what Baxter said were unsafe conditions and a pay cut to $140 a day. Baxter said the pay is inadequate for those who live in the remote North where expenses are much higher than elsewhere.

They are taking their concerns to a First Nations chiefs meeting at the Valhalla Inn on Friday, he said.

Cliffs spokesmen have said the camp manager resigned amid the walkout and will be replaced. The other workers, they said, are welcome to return to their jobs.

They also said the company would meet with the workers to discuss their concerns.