The Ring of Fire moved a rung closer to reality Monday, as the province announced plans to construct a year-round access road to the mineral-rich region. “It’s just what we were looking for,” said Alan Coutts, president and CEO of Noront Resources. “This is the catalyst that was needed, from our point of view.”
A Toronto-based company, Noront is the now chief player in the region, after acquiring the chromite assets from Cliffs Natural Resources a couple of years ago. It plans to develop its Eagle’s Nest deposit — consisting of nickel, copper, platinum and palladium — first, and then mine chromite deposits at several sites in the James Bay lowlands.
“These are bulk and base-metal deposits,” said Coutts. “They’re not gold and diamonds in small volumes; they’re big volumes and you have to move a lot. Without 24/7, 365, all-season infrastructure roads in place, those projects aren’t viable.” The province had been negotiating with nine First Nations in the region and hinting since spring that a deal on road construction was in the offing.
Speaking in Sudbury in late May, Premier Kathleen Wynne said an announcement on infrastructure was due “within weeks, not months.” On Monday, Wynne was in Thunder Bay, along with Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle, to unveil the province’s plan to fund two road projects creating access to the Ring of Fire.
One will be an east-west road linking the fly-in First Nation communities of Webequie and Nibinamik to an existing highway north of Pickle Lake, and the other a north-south conduit connecting Marten Falls First Nation to the provincial highway network.
While no exact figure was attached to the projects, the government said the move is part of a $1-billion commitment made earlier to develop infrastructure in the remote part of the province.
Coutts said it was essential to his company’s efforts to “get clarity on the roads,” as Noront can now raise capital to move its Eagle’s Nest mine forward.
“We need about $7 million to develop that project,” he said. “What this allows us to do is go to equity markets and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got some certainty on this.’ Now this is financeable.”
Trading of Noront stock was put on hold during the announcement Monday, but when it reopened around 11:30 a.m., there was a dramatic spike, with shares jumping 8.5 cents.
“When we un-halted it, there was quickly four million shares traded,” said the Noront CEO. “We’ve had a lot of shareholders with us for a long time, showing a great deal of patience, so as soon as you see a major roadblock pushed over, you see people flooding in.”
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