Though Ottawa is pursuing a new approach
to Far North development, Noront Resources Ltd. is optimistic that their first mine in the Ring of Fire will be in production by 2025.
According to Northern Ontario Business, Company CEO, Alan Coutts stated that he had no reason to believe that the Federal Regional Assessment process, part of the Trudeau Government’s Impact Assessment Act, will delay the start of operations at the Eagle’s Nest Mine based on his conversation with the Honorable Seamus O’Regan, Natural Resources Minister.
The Impact Assessment Act is meant to take a more holistic approach to large-scale projects like the Ring of Fire, taking into account not just environmental impacts but effects on local economies, health, social issues, and Indigenous rights.
However, the act was met with skepticism from many. Northern Ontario Business states that, in some circles, the legislation is viewed as dragging out the review process for major projects, as more Indigenous communities across the northern landscape would have to be engaged.
The Ring of Fire was discovered in 2007. In 2010, the Honourable David Onley, former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, called the site the largest mining development in a century. In fact, The Canadian Press alleged that the region is said to hold some of the world’s richest deposits of chromite, nickel, copper, and platinum valued at anywhere from $30 billion to $60 billion.
Yet, a stumbling point in the project is its location: the Ring of Fire is 300 km from the nearest road.
In a CBC article, published in March 2020, Garry Clark, President of the Ontario Prospectors Association, said that without road access, it’s too expensive for individual prospectors or even most junior mining companies to work in the remote and swampy area and most pulled out a few years ago.
In the past year, building a road has been widely discussed. The road is a proposed 107 km permanent industrial road between Webequie First Nation and the area around McFaulds Lake, according to a 2019 article in Northern Ontario Business.
However, there has been a large amount of opposition to the road and a copious amount of red tape, which has slowed the progress of the road considerably. Starting in 2010, First Nations protesters formed blockades on airstrips built by mining companies due to environmental concerns and in protest of the lack of First Nations consultation. The next year, nine First Nations signed a ‘Unity Declaration’ that asserted their rights to to self-determination and consent prior to development, according to The Narwhal, followed by the signing of a regional framework agreement with the province. However, the framework agreement was ripped up in 2014.
First Nations activists and environmentalists are very concerned with both the construction of the road and the mining development. The Narwhal stated that the development could severely impact the peatlands by increasing carbon dioxide and methane emissions.
“Disturbance of peatlands releases carbon dioxide and methane directly into the atmosphere,” the 2020 article stated, “and while peatlands are already a net contributor of methane, these changes also destroy the ecosystem’s future storage capabilities for carbon dioxide, turning them from a carbon sink into a carbon emitter.”
Other First Nations communities that live downstream of the Ring of Fire are concerned with runoff into the rivers, and worry it will negatively impact the already tumultuous quality of life on their communities, where many First Nations People live in extreme poverty, alongside decades-old boil water advisories, high food prices, and youth suicide crises.
To address the concern from surrounding communities, public discussions started in January this year. Collaboration with those communities has been a priority for companies working in the Far North and the Ontario Government.
In March, Premier Doug Ford announced that the Ontario Government was partnering with Marten Falls First Nation and Webequie First Nation, in addition to Aroland First Nation who had partnered with them in autumn 2019.
“This was a historic agreement,” stated Greg Rickford, Kenora Rainy-River MPP and Minister responsible for Northern Development and Mines. “For the first time ever, we have a road map from Aroland First Nation to Webequie First Nation.
That has not been in place at any point in time prior to the agreement that we signed.”
However, according to The Canadian Press, Kiiwetinoong MPP and Indigenous Affairs Critic, Sol Mamakwa, said many communities in the region were not properly consulted on the Ring of Fire access road.
Additionally, the Omushkegowuk Women’s Water
Council, which represents First Nation communities in Northern Ontario, stressed that Ontario’s agreement with the two communities is only to plan the all-season road, not to build it, and their communities haven’t been involved in any part of the planning process.
“The Omushkegowuk Cree communities are downstream from the Ring of Fire belt. We are Title Holders and Treaty rights holders as we still use our water systems. Anything that would affect our waterways is an infringement on our Treaty rights,” they wrote, in a statement.
The Ring of Fire’s environmental assessment began in February this year. An August Northern Ontario Business article wrote that the feds will be carrying a new and improved Regional Assessment in the Far North mineral belt instead of doing a series of one-off individual assessments on the impact of mining and mining-related infrastructure projects.
According to The Narwhal, Webequie has hired SNC-Lavalin to support the nation’s environmental assessment process, while Marten Falls hired engineering giant AECOM.
Northern Ontario Business wrote that Alan Coutts agreed that training, education, and exploration camp job opportunities; making the communities part owners in Noront; and having them oversee the environmental assessments, routing, and construction of the supply and haul roads will provide an entry-point into the modern economy.
“I think most people share that vision.” Coutts said, “As long as we can do this in a way that’s not prescriptive or bullying and is really inclusive, I think we’ve got a generational winner on our hands.”
In October, a report in The Globe and Mail concluded that hype about the region’s alleged $60-billion mining future is “mostly aspirational hogwash,” but Coutts concluded that a key critique in that article (the 2012 feasibility study for Eagle’s Nest) was outdated.
Noront Resources Ltd. announced this August that it is reopening its Esker Site and mobilizing its team to resume exploration activities in the Ring of Fire, which was closed due to COVID-19.