Northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire needs a road, not rail, Noront CEO asserts – by Bill Curry (Globe and Mail – April 21, 2016)

OTTAWA — The biggest player in Northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire says government infrastructure cash should focus on an east-west road rather than grand plans for a $2-billion north-south rail line.

Alan Coutts, president and CEO of Noront Resources Ltd., responded to a proposal recently promoted to the federal and Ontario governments for a 340-kilometre-long rail line that would be built and financed by Chinese investors.

“What we’re saying is let’s not blow our brains out building the biggest, costliest infrastructure known to mankind without the economic justification,” Mr. Coutts told The Globe and Mail.

Both Ottawa and Ontario are looking to make major investments in infrastructure to spur the economy and help struggling First Nations communities. Recent attention on youth suicides in Ontario’s fly-in reserves has heightened the political focus on social and economic challenges faced by isolated First Nations.

The Ring of Fire contains mineral deposits in a massive area located about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.

Ontario has already pledged $1-billion toward Ring of Fire infrastructure and has asked Ottawa to match that amount. The federal budget included $8.4-billion for indigenous issues, including social and green infrastructure.

But the focus on developing the North comes at a time of weak commodity prices, meaning mining projects such as the Ring of Fire that once generated grandiose claims of development on par with Alberta’s oil sands are now viewed with strong skepticism.

Just last year, Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. sold its leading stake in the Ring of Fire to Noront for $20-million (U.S.) after spending $550-million to acquire its rights in the region. Cliffs’ CEO dismissed the Ring of Fire’s potential, predicting that nothing would be developed over the next 50 years.

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