Ring of Fire budget cut by $10M – by Carl Clutchey (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal – July 29, 2013)

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

Six weeks after it hit the pause button on its environmental assessment for its Ring of Fire project, Cliffs Natural Resources announced that its development budget for the proposed chromite mine has been trimmed by US $10 million.

The Cleveland-based company this spring earmarked $60 million for the work to take place this year, including a feasibility study. A financial report on the company’s second quarter performance released on Thursday shows the figure has been reduced to $50 million.

Regional Cliffs spokeswoman Jennifer Mihalcin confirmed Friday that the reduction is a reflection of the earlier decision to temporarily put the brakes on work on its environmental assessment for the Ring of Fire project. An additional $25 million set aside for overall exploration remains the same.

In June, Cliffs said it was frustrated by a lack of consensus among provincial, company and First Nations interests regarding how the environmental assessment should proceed. Cliffs has been trying to nail down the assessment’s terms of reference for two years. The mine’s proposed in-production year is 2017.

The company has emphasized that it is not pulling out of the $3.3-billion project, to include an open-pit mine 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay as well as a Sudbury-area smelter.

Chromite is a key ingredient in the manufacture of stainless steel. The Ring of Fire mine, including the smelter and transportation network, could create 1,200 jobs over a projected 30-year mine life.

Earlier this week, Marten Falls First Nation Chief Eli Moonias said a closed-door meeting with Cliffs officials in Thunder Bay was productive.

Moonias said that in about three weeks, the company and his First Nation may have a mutually-agreeable plan on how to determine the potential environmental fallout from the proposed mine.

The plan could be shown to other First Nations in the Ring of Fire orbit, setting the stage for a thorough probe of the mine’s potential impacts that’s acceptable to affected reserves, said Moonias.

“We want to have the opportunity to investigate independently what (Cliffs) is going to do, because right now we don’t have a clue about what chemicals could get into the water,” said Moonias.

The Matawa First Nations group has gone to court to argue for an independent review panel into Cliffs’ Ring of Fire proposal.

Cliffs, as well as the federal government, have maintained that a comprehensive review, which does not involve public hearings, is adequate for the project.

In its second-quarter report for the period ending June 30, Cliffs said consolidated revenues of $1.5 billion decreased by $91 million, down six per cent from the year before. Cliffs blamed the revenue drop on an 11-per cent decrease in global iron-ore prices.