A $785,000 study into options for an all-weather route into the Ring of Fire has been completed, but the province — which funded half of the study’s cost — has yet to make it public.
For obvious reasons, the study would be a fascinating read; all of the province’s media would give its findings prominent coverage. Though its development has stalled somewhat, mainly due to depressed metal prices, the future of the Ring of Fire remains a topic of vital importance for the whole country.
Last week, Ontario’s Northern Development and Mines Minister, Michael Gravelle, said the province is reviewing the study, which was overseen by a consortium of four RoF First Nations.
It’s appropriate that First Nations are directly involved, since aboriginals are among those who have the most to gain, or lose, by whatever happens in the remote mineral belt about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.
But since the study was publicly funded (the federal government paid the other half), it’s not appropriate to keep it under wraps now it’s done.
We hope that by saying the study is “under review,” the province isn’t taking the time to massage the findings to its liking.
Based on earlier proposals floated by RoF mining proponents, such as Noront Resources and Cliffs Natural Resources, an all-weather route would either travel east to west, or north to south.
Noront, which remains very much in the game with a proposed nickel mine (Cliffs pulled out in 2015), has made no bones about favouring an east-west road that would connect its future mine with Pickle Lake.
The east-west option is seen by some as more manageable because there are fewer water crossings to contend with, both in terms of construction and environmental approvals. KWG Resources, another player, is pushing for a north-south rail line, which it argues would be cheaper in the long run to maintain.
It’s not just the media itching to see the findings of the study.
As it took steps last week to beef up the number of mining claims it controls in the Ring of Fire, Toronto-based Noront said that it is anxiously awaiting the study’s results.
This isn’t just a matter of curiosity. As Noront CEO Alan Coutts said not too long ago, companies that literally sink or swim on the good graces of investors must be able to show those investors that their money is being put to good use.
Noront can plan all it wants, but without clear direction from government, it is limited in what it can do on the ground. This causes investors to get antsy.
Ontario, which has remained for too long the only Canadian Shield province without a road into its far north, has often been accused of dilly-dallying when it comes to the Ring of Fire. It’s not enough to commit, on paper only, to a $1-billion transportation corridor when so much seems up in the air. It’s also not enough to blame things on the feds.
Someone in authority has to say, definitely, here is the route, and this is where it’s going to go.