PM can save Ring of Fire – by Stan Sudol (Sudbury Star – March 8, 2016)

Sudbury Star columnist calls for a Trudeau ‘Marshall Plan’ for Ontario’s Ring of Fire

Ontario’s “Ring of Fire” mineral belt, located in the province’s remote James Bay Lowlands, is thought to hold more than $60 billion of geological riches. When it was discovered in 2007, it was supposed to usher in a new era of prosperity for Northern Ontario, especially for the impoverished First Nations communities in the region.

Almost a decade later, the ore remains in the ground and doesn’t appear to be coming out anytime soon. Thanks to the Ontario government’s ineptitude, dysfunctional mining policy, lack of promised infrastructure spending and (to a much lesser extent) a broader commodity slump, American miner Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. left the province in frustration in 2013, permanently halting its proposed US$3.3-billion chromite project.

The ultimate indignity for Ontario came last year, when Cliffs sold its US$550-million investment in the Ring of Fire to junior miner Noront Resources Ltd. — the only significant player left in the area — for a bargain-basement price of US$27.5 million.

At the present time, Noront is focused primarily on its bankable Eagles Nest nickel/copper/PGM property, valued at about $10 billion, which can be developed only if a proposed east-west road is built into the mining camp and has put its world-class chromite deposits on the backburner for the foreseeable future.

Many analysts say that Ontario missed an extraordinary opportunity to establish a chromite industry during the commodity boom, and that it will be at least five or more years before any possible development occurs.

Junior Explorer KWG Resources holds the right to earn majority control into another promising chromite deposit, which is just in the initial stage of exploration with only eight or 10 drill holes to date.

The company recently lost a two-year court battle over exclusive control of the surface rights of its claim-staked properties on the best north south transport corridor into the Ring of Fire. That strategic route, which follows a ridge of higher ground – perfect for road or rail construction – through the surrounding swampy muskeg, is now open to any company or organization with the financial ability to build any transportation infrastructure with the required government and First Nations permission.

Recent announcements of the involvement of a Chinese government state-owned rail company to potentially finance and design a railroad on KWG’s north-south claims are highly preliminary.

While the provincial Liberals shoulder most of the blame for delaying the best mineral discovery in Ontario’s mining history in over a century, they did have a legitimate complaint: the previous federal government under Stephen Harper was not at the economic table in a meaningful way.

With the election of the Trudeau Liberals, who have a strong policy mandate to alleviate the living standards of Canada’s First Nations communities, hopes for the development of the Ring of Fire and the enormous mineral potential of the entire northwestern region of Ontario has been renewed, especially with the federal government’s commitment to include significant infrastructure spending in its budget March 22.

The mining companies in the Ring of Fire need infrastructure and so do the isolated aboriginal communities. If the Trudeau government worked in conjunction with Ontario and adopted a “Marshall Plan” — the name of the American multibillion dollar initiative to help rebuild European countries after the Second World War — to develop and modernize infrastructure in the entire isolated northwest, it would kill two birds with one stone.

A recent study by the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board that focused on the territories found that “each dollar spent on Northern economic infrastructure has the potential, if invested wisely, to generate $22 in economic and fiscal benefits.”

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