Frozen out of the Ring of Fire – by David McLaren (Sudbury Star – February 16, 2013)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

The Ring of Fire — it sounds like something out of a Tolkien novel.

Welcome to Mordor, Ont., an area of 5,120 square kilometres in the James Bay watershed chock full of nickel, copper, zinc, gold, palladium and chromium — especially chromium.

The Lords of the Ring are some 30 exploration companies, such as KWG Resources and Noront Resources, which have staked more than 31,000 claims. Cliffs Natural Resources from Ohio is the principal mining company. They’re after chromium, a vital ingredient in stainless steel. (Cliffs is proposing build a chromite smelter in Capreol, creating 400 to 500 jobs).

But others are coming in, including the Chinese state-owned Sinocan Resources Corp. The Crown, in this realm, has two heads: Stephen Harper and Kathleen Wynne.

Ottawa has responsibility for some environmental oversight through the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and Ontario collects royalties, or will after the 10-year tax holiday it gives remote mines.

In fact, Ontario’s mining tax regime is so generous compared to other provinces that it amounts to a subsidy. (Throw in the oilsands and the Crown gives more money to mining companies than it spends on First Nations health, education and housing.) And the federal government’s recent omnibus bills have so severely crippled its environmental regulatory muscle that you might as well hang a sign on the north that says, “(Ring of ) Fire Sale”.

For the Crown, the Ring is Ontario’s oilsands. Schedules call for the first open-pit mine to begin in 2015. The urge is to do everything yesterday — punch in roads and railways to mine sites, dam the Attawapiskat and the Albany rivers for hydroelectricity, build a smelter that will require more than 300 megawatts of power. Mount Doom, full steam ahead.

With all the hurry, the risk is not just environmental. It is that we will sell the Ring short — extracting the ore at a high cost and selling the minerals at a lower price than we could get a decade from now.

The Ring straddles several major rivers in the north, and not one is protected by the newly amended Navigable Waters Protection Act. As the folks at Fort Chipewyan, Alta., will tell you, if you’re downstream of a major extraction, you should worry.

The last line of common sense seems to be some 20 first nations whose territories will be impacted one way or another.

They’re not opposed to the mines. As Chief Roger Wesley of Constance Lake First Nation says, “We want development, but we also want to make sure that our lands, waters, wildlife and our way of life are not destroyed in the process.”

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