Ontario First Nations ink Ring of Fire road deal

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THUNDER BAY—Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was joined by Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle in Thunder Bay on Monday, August 21 to announce that the province would be “taking an important next step” toward developing the fabled resources of the Ring of Fire.

The province will be working with the Webequie, Marten Falls and Nibinamik First Nations to plan and construct a year-round access road into the proposed mining development site being pursued by Noront Resources Ltd. In an important segment of the proposed project, the province is working with First Nations to build all-season access roads to their communities.

In the announcement, Premier Wynne noted that Ontario will support First Nations to plan and construct an east-west road connecting the Webequie and Nibinamik communities to the provincial highway network north of Pickle Lake. This project would provide all-season access to both First Nations communities as well as into the Ring of Fire development.

“I am grateful to the Matawa First Nations, who have been working with us for years to get to this historic day,” said the premier in a release. “The entire Ring of Fire region has huge potential for development that would benefit all of the communities involved and the entire province—creating new jobs and improving the quality of life for people in the North. Getting shovels in the ground to build this connection to the Ring of Fire will move us forward towards unlocking its full potential.”

“Webequie First Nation is collaborating with Nibinamik First Nation through an existing bilateral agreement with a goal of addressing our infrastructure needs that will benefit our people and the region,” said Webequie First Nation Chief Cornelius Wabasse. “As proponents, this will allow us to engage with our people and serve them more effectively including respecting other First Nations. The initiative will further define the routing for a multi-purpose corridor which will accommodate infrastructure projects such as roads, transmission lines and broadband. Our Land Stewardship and environment protection will be a priority for the people of Webequie First Nation, as it is our inherent right stemming from our three tier land base model to implement benefit relationship agreements with both levels of government. The success of the related project development in the Ring of Fire is dependent on the immediate implementation of the statement of joint commitments developed with the province to work with the community on various jurisdictional matters.”

“We have been working towards development of the region with Ontario for a few years and are glad to finally have an agreement to connect to the provincial highway,” said Marten Falls First Nation Chief Bruce Achneepineskum. “As the historical occupants of the Ring of Fire, we believe that mining developments must be both environmentally and economically sustainable, and we want to develop infrastructure that enables a multi-generational chromite opportunity. Today’s announcement is a new beginning and we will continue to work with Ontario on the commitment to undertake further study toward developing our vision of a north-south industrial corridor that transverses a majority of Marten Falls territory as part of the long term development of the Ring of Fire. This is a very significant opportunity for Marten Falls, the north-south region and for the province. We must make the most of it.”

“Today’s announcement is a major step forward for Noront as we prepare to develop our nickel and chromite deposits in the Ring of Fire,” said Alan Coutts, president and CEO of Noront Resources Ltd. “Establishment of a road network with agreement on industrial access is our most important project advancement milestone, and we are very pleased to see it move ahead. We look forward to working closely with the province and First Nations communities through the road construction and mine development processes.”

“It’s like anything else,” said Anishinabek Nation Grand Chief Patrick Madahbee. “This thing has been unravelling over time. It is good that they have the three communities working together to help make this happen.”

Grand Chief Madahbee noted that there is still a lot of work to be done on the Ring of Fire negotiations. “They were talking about coming through the Robinson Huron and Robinson Superior treaty areas, and that is part of our territories,” he said. “Most of the talk at the time was to ship down by rail to Capreol, but all that may have changed, we don’t know yet what is happening with that. In any event, there is a lot of negotiations still to go on.”

The province is also supporting a plan by Marten Falls First Nation to construct an access road connecting that community to the existing provincial highway network at Aroland/Nakina.

According to a provincial government release, communities are working to begin environmental assessments of these projects by January 2018 and plan to begin construction in 2019, pending all necessary approvals.

Ontario will continue to support Marten Falls to undertake further technical and environmental studies that could inform planning and development of a north-south access road tied to the development of, and business case for, chromite mining in the Ring of Fire.

The premier notes that “building these roads is a critical step in realizing the economic benefits of one of the biggest mineral-development opportunities in Ontario in almost a century.”

Funding for these roads will come from the previously announced government commitment to invest $1 billion in Ring of Fire infrastructure to create jobs, provide long-term benefits and improve quality of life for people in the region.

Ontario is working to support these First Nations as they address all regulatory requirements so that this unique environment is protected.