NIPISSING – Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle knows he has work to do.
“We need to make some decisions on infrastructure,” said Gravelle in an interview with the News about the Ring of Fire mining find in the remote James Bay region of Northern Ontario.
Once touted as the biggest mining find of the century in the province, the development has stalled over the past year with drilling activity almost stopping completely and global mining giant Cliffs Natural Resources saying it’s pulling out of the region.
But Gravelle says work is still being done around the Ring of Fire and the most important ingredient is getting it right. “We’re all eager to see the project move forward, but we’re also eager to see that we do it in the right way,” said Gravelle.
At the moment the Ring of Fire project is in the bureaucratic wash cycle simultaneously going through consultations/negotiations with First Nations, and environmental assessment and the number crunching analysis of how to get the ore from a remote challenging terrain to market.
It is work Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli believes could be going a lot faster.
During a recent trip to the Noront and Cliffs camps in the Ring of Fire, Fedeli said he is concerned about the speed of the roll out since the mining find was discovered in 2007.
“I definitely saw a couple of things that were concerning. Considering there were so many people working there in the past for Cliff and for Noront and now there are a dozen. It is shocking but understandable considering there is still no way of getting the ore to market,” said Fedeli.
Fedeli made the trip with the CEO and COO of Noront Resources Alan Coutts and Paul Semple, respectively, and believes in their vision for an east-west all season road to not only develop and deliver ore from Noront’s proposed nickel mine, but will also open the area up to exploration.
“What I absolutely learned the most is there is a solution here as Noront showed they have a quick win available,” said Fedeli about the road solution.
He still believes rail is the best solution, long-term, to bringing ore out of the Ring of Fire, but the road is an important first step.
“If you are going to get involved in the north-south route that is where you get Ontario Northland involved,” said Fedeli.
Gravelle did hint the proposed road solution could be at the top of his list for investment opportunities, saying, “Whatever route is put in place needs to help the most communities.”
The east-west route would put at least four First Nations communities within reach of a year-round access point instead of being fly-in communities, whereas the north-south route would only touch one. North-south also has to solve five major river crossings.
Complicating things is a recent court ruling backing another company’s staking claims, KWG Resources, along the north-south route tying up the proposed route in ownership issues. A provincial decision has ruled that out on the east-west route.
Comparatively, Gravelle has made a flurry of announcements about the Ring of Fire, first in November of last year about the province creating a development corporation to handle whatever infrastructure goes into the region and just last week that Deloitte Inc. will oversee the creation of the body.
“To attain the services such as Deloitte, which has the experience legally and with the governance setting up, is a big step forward in getting it right,” said Gravelle.
Fedeli, a Progressive Conservative member, is critical of the Liberal minister.
“What were you doing for all these months? I really believe (the government) is ragging the puck trying to get through an election to fight off any criticism,” said Fedeli.
In the minority parliament situation where an election could happen at any moment his party is proposing putting a single minister of the file to direct decisions currently in the hands of the Ministries of Transportation, Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Mines, and Finance.
“You’ve got all these bodies and you really can’t be surprised nothing is happening,” said Fedeli.
Gravelle says he has faith in the work being done, including negotiations between the province and First Nations being represented by former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci and former premier and Liberal leader Bob Rae.
At stake are thousands of jobs with more than 1,500 high paying jobs related to the Noront find alone. Fedeli points to the more than $200 million spent by Noront Resources alone. With 66 mining and machining companies in the North Bay area, even though it is relatively far-removed, the Ring of Fire has a big impact.
Last week the Ontario Chamber of Commerce released a report saying the Ring of Fire would have a $10 billion impact on Ontario’s economy in the first 10 years of operation. The report also calls on the federal government to make significant investments in the region along with the province, matching provincial dollars.
“We are very clear that we are prepared to make a significant investment,” said Gravelle.
Fedeli says the province is late coming to the table.
“At the end of the day, put all of the politics aside, the bottom line is nothing is done.”
For the original version of this article, click here: http://www.northbaynipissing.com/news-story/4385037-time-to-make-some-big-decisions/