Pickle Lake pushes east-west Ring of Fire route – by Bryan Meadows (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal – September 13, 2012)

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

The Township of Pickle Lake wants the province to reconsider its support for a proposed north-south road corridor to Nakina from the Ring of Fire mining camp.

“The businesses in our community stand to lose 30 to 40 per cent of their business due to the north-south route decision,” Mayor Roy Hoffman said Wednesday. “The impact of this could potentially put these businesses ‘out of business’ and put extreme pressure on a community that is already struggling to survive.”

Hoffman explained that a north-south route would impact a supply chain developed over decades through Pickle Lake, which acts as a distribution point for building supplies, fuel, groceries, mail and medical supplies.

“To fundamentally change the flow of traffic to (remote) First Nation communities will have a negative economic impact on the community,” he said, noting that the community prefers that a north-south rail line be constructed to get minerals to market from the Ring of Fire, south to Nakina and the CN Railway main line.

And, that an all-weather east-west road corridor from Pickle Lake to the mining camp be constructed so that the community would continue its role as a distribution point for goods moving north.

“The transportation of goods to the far north First Nations communities is one of the only private sector industries we have left,” Hoffman added.

Hoffman maintains that the east-west route also makes sense environmentally — the headwaters of the Albany and Attawapiskat rivers have already been crossed — and infrastructurally, having connecting power lines, communications and transportation links already in place along Highway 599 and the North Road.

He said he discussed the east-west corridor with several provincial cabinet ministers last month at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Ottawa.

“Will we change their minds? I doubt they will back away from the north-south corridor, but,” he said, “I don’t think anyone knew the impact it could have on Pickle Lake.

“It’s still in environmental assessment stage, so everything is not carved in stone. . . . The compromise from our standpoint, would be to give Cliffs the railway link to Nakina (for its ore transportation) and give us the all-weather road, to keep the connection to the far north communities,” Hoffman added.

Four Matawa First Nations: Eabametoong, Neskantaga, Nibinamik and Webequie have also backed an east-west road link; even going as far as signing an agreement in March to work together on building and operating their own Ring of Fire transportation corridor between Pickle Lake and Webequie Junction.

Cliffs Natural Resources announced in June that it would build a ferrochrome smelter near Sudbury and that ore would be trucked south from the mine site along a $600 million, all-weather road to Nakina.

The provincial government said then, that discussions would begin soon on the proposed development of that new all-season road to run south from the Ring of Fire.

The federal and provincial governments are co-ordinating environmental assessments of the proposed processing facility, transportation corridor and mine site developments.