Locate smelter in Greenstone … or else, Aroland chief says – by Darren MacDonald (Sudbury Northern Life – May 8, 2012)

This article came from Northern Life, Sudbury’s biweekly newspaper.

First Nation poised to fight Ring of Fire development

The Chief of Aroland First Nation in northwestern Ontario is adamant that the only way he’ll support the Ring of Fire development is if Cliffs Natural Resources agrees to build the ferrochrome smelter in Greenstone, Ont., near his community.

“That’s our bottom line,” said Sonny Gagnon, chief of the 325 residents of Aroland, on May 7. “That smelter is pretty much the key to the concept we have of how this thing should be developed.”

Gagnon said the project is a huge opportunity for First Nations in the area, one that could have a lasting impact for the next 100 years. There is no way he and his community could support the Ring of Fire if smelter jobs are located in Sudbury, which, for weeks, has been rumoured as the site for the smelter.

For example, Gagnon said some local communities have to rely on diesel power for electricity. If the smelter is built in the area, it would have to be attached to the provincial power grid, potentially offering those communities access to the same power grid most Ontarians take for granted.

“We want that smelter located close to us,” he said. “We want to get some of those communities off the diesel and onto the power grid.”

Without specifying what he would do if Greenstone isn’t chosen as the site of the smelter, Gagnon said he’s willing to escalate his fight if necessary.

“If that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes,” he said. “I don’t like to make any threats. I think we can come up with a workable solution if we’re given the opportunity to sit across the table from Cliffs and the province, rather than butting heads with them.

“But nobody is listening to us. So maybe we have to force the issue.”

Gagnon is also calling on the province to make public any discussions it has had with Cliffs, a company based in Cleveland, Ohio.

Gagnon said he has had just one meeting with Cliffs CEO Joseph Carrabba, on May 1, just before Carrabba gave the keynote address at the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business in Thunder Bay.

“He had very little to say, other than that he has confidentiality agreements with the province and that he couldn’t disclose what has been said in their talks with the government,” Gagnon said. “I want to know what has been said in the meetings. I want to know who has been meeting with who and how they came to the conclusion to locate the smelter in Sudbury.”

At the Thunder Bay meeting, Gagnon and other First Nations representatives gave Carrabba a three-page outline detailing what they want to see as the Ring of Fire is developed. The Black Thor chromite deposit is located in the James Bay lowlands.

“We told him what the land means to us, how it should be developed, and how the environmental assessment process should proceed,” he said.

“But the most important thing is consultation and accommodation. And that is not happening … we’re not getting an opportunity to present our case.”

Calls to Cliffs Natural Resources weren’t returned by Northern Life’s presstime.

Adrian Kupesic, a spokesman for Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci, flatly denied that any secret discussions have taken place between the province and Cliffs. In fact, he said the only role the province has played is in trying to convince the company to build the smelter in Ontario.

“I think he has mentioned secret discussions,” Kupesic said of Gagnon. “It’s certainly not a secret that we have been engaged in talks with companies in regards to the Ring of Fire development. Our focus has been ensuring that Ontario as a whole benefits from the full development from Cliffs. And that includes the ferrochrome smelting facility.”

But “the decision where to locate the smelter in Ontario is Cliffs’ decision, and any questions in that regard should be directed to them.”

Kupesic said the province hasn’t taken a stand publicly or privately on where it wants the smelter to go.

“We just want the facility in Ontario … That has been our objective.”

He said the province has held talks with First Nations in the area, including Aroland, and will continue working with them to address their concerns.

“We have great respect for our First Nations partners,” he said. “We respect the duty-to-consult process and are committed to meeting our constitutional obligations under that consultation process.”

Kupesic said the province recently held a career fair in Aroland that was very positively received by residents.

“And we will be meeting with Aroland (representatives) to discuss funding programs to support their vision of economic development and the economic opportunities afforded by the Ring of Fire.”

But Gagnon said he’s not interested in any solution that doesn’t involve locating the smelter in Greenstone.

“If it’s built in Sudbury, then there’s nothing for us,” he said. “We’ll just be watching the trucks and trains go by carrying our ore.”

Last week, Gagnon said he had an encounter in his back yard with a surveyor. He said the surveyor was taking measurements for a road that would have to be built to truck the ore southeast to the smelter.

“This was only metres from my house. They’re already working on developing the north-south corridor without an agreement with us in place.

“So I kicked him out. Nothing against the surveyor. He was hired to do a job. But before he can do his job, we need an agreement in place …. I’m trying to get the word out to (Cliffs), don’t go to the podium and announce anything yet until you have sat across the table from the First Nations.”