Regional plan needed for Ring of Fire: Liberal critic – by Shawn Bell (Wawatay News – February 23, 2012)

This article came from Wawatay News:

The federal Liberal critic for Aboriginal Affairs is cautioning that communities in northern Ontario could see environmental and health effects like those seen in Alberta’s oilsands region, if regional planning and environmental assessments for the Ring of Fire are not done properly.

Dr. Carolyn Bennett was in Thunder Bay on Feb. 20 to meet with Matawa First Nations. Following that meeting, Bennett said the current approach of doing individual environmental assessments for each Ring of Fire project is flawed.

“It could be done in a much more coherent way,” Bennett said. “We should not be making the mistake of the oilsands, where everything is done in a very piecemeal way.”

Bennett’s comments come as documents obtained by CBC through a access-to-information request show that an Ontario manager with Environment Canada expressed similar concerns last year, before the environmental assessment process began.

In a letter to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) in the fall of 2011, Rob Dobos recommended a regional environmental assessment process that would take into account the large number of projects expected to move forward in the region.

Dobos called for a process “that considers the interconnectivity and the cumulative impact of currently proposed and anticipated future developments within and connecting to the Ring of Fire,” according to CBC.

Cliffs Resources’ proposed chromite mine and Noront Resources’ Eagles Nest project are both undergoing separate environmental assessment processes.

Matawa First Nations filed a judicial review of the Cliffs environmental assessment in November 2011, calling on the courts to implement a Joint Review Panel assessment instead of the “comprehensive study” that is underway.

A decision in the case may take up to 18 months.

Matawa has encouraged the federal government to act before the court decides. In November Matawa’s lawyer in the case, Judith Rae, told Wawatay News that the federal environment minister can step in at any time and order a Joint Review Panel of the project.

“The hope is that we start the right process as soon as possible,” Rae said. “Let’s not waste all this time and money.”

Meanwhile Bennett, who took only the role of Aboriginal Affairs critic after the 2011 election, also highlighted what she called the federal government’s disjointed approach to its responsibility in the Ring of Fire. She said that Environment Canada and Health Canada are not included on the federal Ring of Fire coordinating committee, something that needs to be remedied for the government to adequately plan a regional approach to development.

Bennett noted that establishing effective monitoring regimes will also be crucial for northern Ontario to avoid some of the pitfalls that Alberta’s oilsands have seen.

“Monitoring cannot be an afterthought,” she said. “You put those types of things in up front, and the communities have to be involved in that.”

Cliffs Natural Resources states on its website that it hopes to start production on the mine in 2015.

A decision on where to locate the associated processing plant has not yet been made. Sudbury, Greenstone and Thunder Bay are vying for the facility.