Smelter on the horizon?

Stephen Flewelling, Noront Resources’ chief development officer, discusses plans to build a ferrochrome processing facility (FPF) in Northern Ontario Wednesday at the Valhalla Inn. Thunder Bay is one of four communities being considered as a possible site for a proposed smelter.

Toronto-based mining company Noront Resources revealed its plan to build a ferrochrome processing facility (FPF) in Northern Ontario Wednesday at the Valhalla Inn to a crowd of about 130 people.

The company is considering locating the plant, which could initially create up to 350 jobs, in either Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins or Sudbury.

The Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC) and Fort William First Nation Economic Development Corporation invited Noront to deliver a preliminary presentation about plans for the FPF, and to discuss any advancements with the Ring of Fire, a mineral-rich zone located 400 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.

Chromite is used to make stainless steel. Noront wants to process ferrochrome, an alloy of chromium and iron, to sell to stainless steel producers.

“The demand for stainless steel continues to rise,” said Alan Coutts, Noront’s president and CEO, adding that Noront’s ferrochrome product would be shipped to U.S.-based stainless steel plants.

China is the lead producer of stainless steel, holding about 52 per cent of the world’s production in 2015.

The potential Ring of Fire development has been on hold for several years while negotiations with First Nations continue, and while transportation issues, including access to the area, are addressed.

Coutts said construction of a road into the Ring of Fire site is one of the main hurdles for development.

“Until the road is completed, this is all theoretical,” he said.

Noront representatives have been touring the four possible communities during recent months to determine the desire of communities to have a processing facility, and to review existing local infrastructure.

“We’re gauging the level of community support,” said Coutts, adding Noront will take a “measured and modest approach” to development carried out through stages.

Access to power is another major component needed to allow the project to move forward, and Noront is seeking a long-term power pricing agreement with the Ontario government.

Stephen Flewelling, Noront’s chief development officer, said Stage 1 of the FPF project would include a moderate-sized mine and smelter producing up to 280,000 tonnes of ferrochrome annually. The first stage could cost up to $1.2 billion. Stage 2 would step up production to 560,000 tonnes per year.

In terms of pollution, Flewelling said there would be, “no effluent of any kind from the smelter.”

Noront’s first project is the Eagle’s Nest Mine, a high-grade nickel-copper-platinum group element deposit located in the Ring of Fire. Its Blackbird chromite deposit — discovered in 2008 — would be the company’s second mine.

Blackbird, one of a number of large tonnage, high-quality chromite discoveries in the Ring of Fire, would have a 15-year mine life, according to Flewelling.

John Mason, the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission’s project manager of mining services, said the Ring of Fire has one of the few undeveloped chromite deposits in the world, and the plan to develop the site is still “top of mind.”

Once a community is selected at the site, construction of the proposed smelter would be several years away as securing permits and going through an environmental assessment process takes time, according to Coutts.

“It’s going to take years to build the plant,” he said. “But we want to make sure we’re going down the road with the right partner.”

Coutts said Thunder Bay has a number of advantages such as access to skilled labour, rail, a university and college, and proximity to the project.

“Physically, Thunder Bay is the closest to where we are going to be mining from,” he said.

Noront will be reviewing proposals from the four communities being considered for the FPF site during upcoming months and plans to make a decision by the end of the year.

Stephen Flewelling, Noront Resources’ chief development officer, discusses plans to build a ferrochrome processing facility (FPF) in Northern Ontario Wednesday at the Valhalla Inn. Thunder Bay is one of four communities being considered as a possible site for a proposed smelter.

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