Will Ontario get it right in northern Ring of Fire? – by Janet Sumner and Anna Baggio (Toronto Star – September 28, 2012)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Janet Sumner is executive director and Anna Baggio is director, conservation planning, for CPAWS Wildlands League.

As with most mining finds, the rich mineral deposits and metals discovered within Ontario’s far northern “Ring of Fire” have generated a lot of hype and optimism. It’s been called one of the “most promising mineral development opportunities in Ontario in almost a century”. In a recent letter to the federal government, Premier Dalton McGuinty was quoted as writing that this area has the potential to “rival Alberta’s oilsands”.

Well it might. We just don’t know because so far we have very few facts to go on. Much work remains to be done. While Ontario might dream of the dollars developing the Ring of Fire will bring, what about the costs we will all bear?

Scientists have long warned that poorly-placed infrastructure in the Far North will cause irreversible harm to aquatic systems and wildlife. In the meantime, the first major Ring of Fire mining proposal is barrelling ahead.

A U.S. owned company called Cliffs Natural Resources has received the go-ahead from Ontario to route a new 350 km all-weather road along a north-south alignment so that it can extract and process chromite ore and transport the concentrate to a smelter in Capreol, Ontario or to Asia. The end result will be ferrochrome (used in making stainless steel). One of the by-products is hexavalent chromium, which first came to fame in the film “Erin Brockovich”.

The decision by the government to support and invest in this road for Cliffs, made behind closed doors and before the completion of a proper environmental assessment, raises extremely troubling questions for all Ontario taxpayers. What will it cost citizens to subsidize Cliffs Natural Resources’ plans to exploit the Ring of Fire? What are we going to get in return for investing public funds in this road? What is our reward for giving Cliffs a break on electricity rates for its smelter?

And those are just questions about money. Where is the comprehensive regional land use plan for this highly coveted area? Without a plan that incorporates conservation science and traditional knowledge, how can we ensure protection of its fresh, free-flowing rivers and wildlife such as Boreal woodland caribou and fish?

So far, we have few answers to any of these questions.

Local First Nations near the Ring of Fire are rightly worried about keeping their waters and lands clean and healthy. We’re concerned too about threatened species, peatlands, waters and protecting the public interest. Ontario’s carbon-rich boreal peatlands help cool the planet.

For the rest of this column, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1263506–will-ontario-get-it-right-in-northern-ring-of-fire

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