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There’s no question massive infrastructure will need to be built in order to mine the large chromite deposits in the Ring of Fire, says Noront Resources (TSXV: NOT) president and CEO Alan Coutts.
However, Coutts sees the big infrastructure needs — such as Mushkegowuk Tribal Council’s recent announcement regarding a First Nations-led plan to develop rail, power and a sea port in James Bay — as a project for the long term.
“The needs that Mushkegowuk are talking about are the long-term infrastructure needs if there is to be large-scale chromite mining in the Ring of Fire,” Coutts said. “In my opinion, that’s at least a decade off — there’s nobody advancing a large-scale chromite project now and certainly the ability to permit such a project with big waste rock piles, big tailings storage areas, and large water treatment needs because of the water coming into pits — it’s a long way off.”
Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE: CLF) suspended work on its Black Thor open-pit chromite project in the Ring of Fire late last year, leaving junior Noront as the nearest-term potential producer in the remote region of Ontario.
Noront also has a high-quality chromite deposit in the area, Blackbird, but instead it’s focusing on its Eagle’s Nest nickel-copper-platinum group metals project — a high-grade deposit with much more modest infrastructure needs.
Coutts sees Eagle’s Nest as part of an initial, smaller-scale phase of development in the Ring of Fire.
“There’s the first decade where you have a relatively small infrastructure that gets development up in earnest and allows people to participate and get trained and feel confident about how things are progressing,” Coutts says.
“Then once you’ve got that established, you can start thinking about permitting a bigger-scale, more challenging deposit like a chromite deposit, which would need a vastly different infrastructure.
“And hopefully by that time, the local people have a good feeling about mining and how it’s unfolding and how it can manage the environment — and then you can have that discussion.”
Coutts, who has mused about buying Cliffs’ projects for the right price, notes that Eagle’s Nest will be a low-impact, benign development. The mine tailings at the underground project would be placed underground, and all of the mine’s process water would be recycled for re-use, rather than being treated and released into the environment.
“We think it’s a very permittable project,” Coutts says. “So we think that’s the best first step in this region to get people involved and confident and to see whether or not mining companies can live up to their promises about how they manage the environment and how they involve First Nations.”
Noront would only need to truck 150,000 to 200,000 tonnes of concentrate a year from the mine, which has a mine life of 11 years, as opposed to the millions of tonnes of material that would have to be trucked from a large-scale chromite mine.
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