Cliffs suspends Ring of Fire chromite project efforts – by Bertrand Marotte (Globe and Mail – June 12, 2013)

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Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. is putting on hold the environmental assessment work for its massive chromite extraction project in the Ring of Fire region of Northern Ontario.

The company says the decision to temporarily suspend the activities is because of delays related to the environmental assessment process, land surface rights and talks with Ontario.

“While most of the aspects of the chromite project have advanced according to plan, temporarily suspending the environmental assessment work acknowledges that certain critical elements of the project’s future are not solely within our control and require the active support and participation by other interested parties such as government agencies and impacted First Nation communities,” Cliffs senior vice-president for global ferroalloys said in a news release Wednesday.

Cliffs says progress on the $3-billion project in the fragile muskeg of the James Bay lowlands has been hobbled by a series of setbacks, including delays on the terms for the provincial environmental assessment (EA) process, uncertainty over the federal EA process, a court challenge by First Nation bands to the federal decision to conduct a comprehensive study rather than a full-fledged review including public hearings, unresolved land right issues and unconcluded agreements with Ontario.

This is the latest in an increasingly complicated regulatory process to get started on the mine as well as on a transportation corridor to get the chromite ore to the Sudbury area for processing.

The difficulties are in stark contrast to the streamlined approvals procedures for major mining and energy projects that the federal Conservative government put in place last year.

Cliffs has proposed a combination of open-pit and underground mining, but environmentalists have alleged that the company is planning on open pit only.

The mine would bring much needed jobs and economic development to the First Nations people in the Ring of Fire region.

But environmentalists have voiced concerns over possible contamination of waterways as well as toxic byproducts and the disruption of wildlife.

Cliffs has said it’s possible to go ahead with the project without seriously disrupting or damaging the environment.

The company said on Wednesday that it can’t go ahead with the mine until it has received provincial and federal environmental assessment approvals, negotiated mutually acceptable agreements with First Nation communities, worked with governments on building infrastructure in the Ring of Fire and completed its commercial and technical feasibility studies.

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