The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
The prospect of a large-scale chromite mine in the Ring of Fire — as well as new power and road infrastructure expected to go along with it — still seems do-able even as the main proponent ponders a less-than-rosy market outlook, possible time-line adjustments and a partner, leaders of an affected community say.
But the fact that Cliffs Natural Resources may yet again postpone its proposed production date is discomfiting. “It’s definitely a concern when they push (the date) back a second time,” Greenstone Mayor Ron Beaulieu said Monday.
“I mean, we met with Cliffs from day one, and they told us they had a production date set (2015) which seemed written in stone.”
Beaulieu added: “I still think it’s a viable project that will eventually come to fruition.” Cliffs spokeswoman Pat Persico said Monday that “officially we are working towards the end of 2016,” but the production date could be pushed “beyond 2017.”
Persico said the Cleveland-based iron ore giant remains committed to having a feasibility study and environmental assessment review for its Ring of Fire project completed by next year.
When the feasibility study is complete, “we will assess the study’s findings, industry conditions and Cliffs’ cash position and outlook before deciding to move forward with the project,” she said in an email.
If market outlook changes occur, Persico added, the company has “levers it can pull,” including “delaying the major capital spending outlays.”
John Mason, Thunder Bay’s project manager for the city’s burgeoning mining sector, said he isn’t spooked by Cliffs’ latest position.
“Cliffs’ main income is iron ore and prices declined in the last year,” said Mason.
“Also, it’s not unusual for any company to say that it will commit to building a mine only when the post-feasibility study is complete — a prudent approach.”
Cliffs’ entire Ring of Fire proposal, including the mine site about 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, a 350-kilometre all-weather road linking the mine to CN Rail’s main line and a 300-megawatt smelter near Sudbury, has been pegged at $3 billion.
That Cliffs is considering taking on a financial partner for the project is hardly unusual in the mining sector: earlier this year, Japan’s Mitsubishi announced it obtained a 25-per-cent stake in a proposed copper and palladium mine on the outskirts of Marathon.
Natural Resources Minister Michael Gravelle, a former Mines minister whose Thunder Bay-Superior North riding stands to benefit economically by the Cliffs project, said he remains bullish about it.
“Surely the effect world markets have plays a large role, and that is why Cliffs has made this decision,” Gravelle said.
“What is important is that they remain committed to this incredibly important project and, frankly, 2017 is only five years away.”