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The head of the leading junior miner in the Ring of Fire feels it’s getting close to obtaining provincial approval to advance to the next phase of developing its nickel-copper deposit in the James Bay lowlands.
Al Coutts, president and CEO of Noront Resources, is expecting good news from the province within a few weeks on the much sought-after terms of reference on its environmental assessment report of its Eagle’s Nest project.
“From my conversations with the province, I think we’re very close to having something that’s going to work for all of us,” said Coutts. The terms of reference outline the purpose and structure of the environmental assessment process.
In late 2013, Noront filed a 4,700-page draft environmental assessment report on its Eagle’s Nest deposit and a proposed west-to-east access road to both federal and provincial authorities as part of a so-called harmonized process. It was designed to avoid unnecessary duplication, delays and uncertainties on development projects.
Feedback has come from the federal review, not so much from the province.
The stumbling block, Coutts said, has been Ontario’s ongoing negotiations with the Matawa First Nations through the regional framework process. Matawa is a tribal council that represents nine communities with traditional lands in the area Noront is working.
Whenever a final agreement is eventually reached, it will address environmental issues, regional infrastructure, the health of the communities, resource revenue sharing, and provide a general understanding of how area First Nations will benefit and participate in development.
But the process seems to have taken longer than anticipated.
“In their minds, they (Ontario) were hoping to do this framework, get it out of the way and pave the way to seamless permitting,” said Coutts.
Though supportive of the process, Coutts remarked, “it’s taken a long time and there are lots of complex issues that have got nothing to do with industry and the past 100 years.”
The company isn’t enamoured that Eagle’s Nest has sat idling for two years in order to complete this “over-arching” agreement.
“That was the sticking point,” said Coutts. “I think they wanted to complete that and then move on permitting, but it’s taken such a long time. Now they’re coming around to saying, we can do that and advance these two (processes) in parallel.
“We were urging the government to start the permitting process on our mine. We intend to live and abide by the spirit of this regional framework and they could put things in the terms of reference that reflect on that.”
With a positive feasibility study completed, Eagle’s Nest contains 11 million tonnes of reserves of nickel, copper, platinum and palladium. The updated start date for commercial production is sometime in 2018. A proposed 280-kilometre access road would run from Pickle Lake to the deposit along a winter road route designed to minimize the environmental impact, avoid major river crossings and connect some of the isolated Matawa communities to the provincial highway.
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