Ontario eyes pragmatic approach to Ring of Fire

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By Peter Kennedy

The Ontario government is prepared to take “a more pragmatic approach” to unlocking the mineral wealth that is waiting to be mined at the Ring of Fire region of northern Ontario.

The pledge was made by Greg Rickford, Ontario’s Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines and Indigenous Affairs during a speech in Sault Ste. Marie, Tuesday August 27.

The Ring of Fire region is an area that Ontario government officials have previously described as “one of the most promising mineral development opportunities in Ontario in almost a century.”

Recent estimates suggest multi-generational potential for chromite production as well as significant production of nickel, copper and platinum.

It has been said that chromite mined from the Ring of Fire would support the province’s massive mining services and supply chain for many decades to come, bringing new jobs and industry to the hard-hit north and its aboriginal communities.

“Despite over a decade of talk and more than $20 million invested, real progress on the Ring of Fire has been met with delay after delay,” Rickford said. “That’s why Ontario is taking a new, pragmatic approach to unlocking the Ring of Fire’s potential, one that includes working directly with willing First Nation partners who want to move at the speed of business, to ensure sustainable development,” he said.

Rickford’s comments were welcomed in a joint statement by Noront Resources Ltd. [NOT-TSXV] and the Marten Falls First Nation. Noront is hoping to extract nickel and chromite from its properties in the Ring of Fire area in partnership with local First Nations.

But the junior mining company faces significant challenges in carrying out such a plan. They include the uncertainties associated with mining in a region that is so far away from crucial processing and transportation infrastructure.

After stating that it was prepared to invest billions of dollars on the Ring of Fire, Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. pulled the plug in November 2013, saying it was indefinitely suspending development of a massive chromite deposit in northern Ontario and wouldn’t be spending any more money on the project.

It did so because it was unable to build an all-weather road to the site because it would cross land staked by a rival company. It also failed to gain support from First Nations that would be impacted by the development.

Cliffs later sold its Ring of Fire Chromite properties to Noront for US$20 million in March 2015.

As a result of that acquisition and the subsequent takeover of MacDonald Mines, Noront has ownership or a controlling interest in all the major discoveries in the Ring of Fire region to date.

Noront’s flagship project is the 100%-owned Eagle’s Nest deposit, which is has described as the highest grade, nickel sulphide find in Canada since the Voisey’s Bay discovery in Labrador.

Other projects in its portfolio include the Black Thor and Blackbird chromite deposits. Noront is hoping to see construction of a related Ferrochrome production facility in Sault St. Marie. Ferrochrome is a key ingredient used in the production of stainless steel.

Rickford said the Ring of Fire represents a major economic opportunity to create jobs, generate revenue, build infrastructure and bring prosperity to First Nations and communities across the North.

“By working toward bilateral agreements with First Nation partners on Ring of Fire development, the Province will also help address unique community needs and opportunities when it comes to developing the Ring of Fire,” he said.

Marten Falls is an Anishinaabie First Nation reserve located in northern Ontario, where it occupies communities on both sides of the Albany River. It is also the environmental assessment proponent for the first stage of a north-south access road connecting its community to an all-season road which is envisioned to connect the Ring of Fire mineral development.

The all-season community access road project has two phases. Phase 1 is an access road that will connect Marten Falls First Nation forestry access roads near Painter Lake, located north of Nakina, Ontario. Phase 2 is a supply road that will branch off the Phase 1 access road north of Albany River and connect to the area known as the Ring of Fire.

Noront says it has a project advancement agreement in place with Marten Falls that ensures early dialogue and planning regarding the development of mining projects.

On Tuesday, Noront shares eased 2.44% or $0.005 to 20 cents. The shares trade in a 52-week range of 19 cents and 35 cents.

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