[Thompson, Manitoba Mayor] Johnston hasn’t given up on smelter and refinery – Ryan Flanagan (Thompson Citizen – June 22, 2011)

The Thompson Citizen, which was established in June 1960, covers the City of Thompson and Nickel Belt Region of Northern Manitoba. The city has a population of about 13,500 residents while the regional population is more than 40,000.  news@thompsoncitizen.net

Nearly a month after the City of Thompson and Vale sent out a press release announcing the formation of the Thompson Economic Development Working Group (TEDWG), Mayor Tim Johnston expressed disappointment at the perception that the creation of TEDWG means that the city is giving up any hope that the Vale smelter and refinery can be saved.

“I get very concerned when I see, hear, and read some of the inaccuracies and assumptions that the public makes, that in no way contribute to moving ahead in a positive manner,” he said as part of his mayor’s report at the May 30 meeting of city council. “All you have to do is pick up the phone or e-mail any member of council and you will get the position of the City of Thompson. In no way is this a concession, or the City of Thompson conceding what may or may not happen in 2015. It is proceeding based on what we are being told will happen in 2015.”

What the city is being told, of course, is that the smelter and refinery will be closed and demolished. Since Vale announced those plans last November, a group with representation from the city, the province, and United Steelworkers Local 6166 has presented Vale with solutions to keep the facilities open and their jobs intact, but Vale rejected those proposals and says it is moving forward with closure.

“This media release in no way stops that political process from continuing,” said Johnston. “The City of Thompson has been absolutely clear since the outset that it is largely the responsibility of the province of Manitoba – because it is the agency that has the authority and jurisdiction with respect to mining – to ensure that there is communication and a process for discussion between Vale and the province. That process will continue. There has been a commitment by all those parties to ensure that there is ongoing discussion.”

Johnston also noted that in an attempt to clear up some of the rumours he said have been flying around the community, the city asked Vale for a letter spelling out what commitments the local stakeholders have been able to obtain from Vale thus far. That letter was read into the record, dated May 17 and signed by John Pollesel, chief operating officer for Vale’s North Atlantic Base Metals operations.

The letter spells out three areas in which Vale will work with the city: “helping Thompson develop an economic diversification strategy” through funding and taking part in TEDWG and paying for the services of Toronto-based consultants rePlan, entering discussions with the city on grant-in-lieu payments for 2011 and 2012 and negotiating an agreement for years beyond those, and working collaboratively on issues such as land transfers.