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New chromite mine and processing plant may be Canada’s ‘canary in the coal mine’

Sudbury, ON -- Ontario's Liberal government has announced a major investment by Cliffs Natural Resources, Cleveland, OH, to develop the Ring of Fire, a huge mining and exploration area near James Bay.


Sudbury, ON — Ontario’s Liberal government has announced a major investment by Cliffs Natural Resources, Cleveland, OH, to develop the Ring of Fire, a huge mining and exploration area near James Bay.

Cliffs will invest $3.3 billion to build a chromite mine, a transportation corridor to the area about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, and a processing facility near Sudbury, announced Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci.

The $1.8 billion smelter in Capreol will create about 900 new jobs, including 450 when the facility is in operation by 2015, said Bartolucci.

The Ring of Fire includes the largest chromite deposit ever discovered in North America. The proposed smelter would process the chromite into a key component of stainless steel.

“You all know that there was stiff competition with other jurisdictions for the location of this smelter and those jurisdictions were outside the province of Ontario,” said Bartolucci.

However, when questioned, the minister admitted Cliffs and the province were still negotiating the deal and had several outstanding issues to resolve before they could reach a final agreement.

“Obviously there are a number of factors that Cliffs and the province of Ontario are still discussing and still working towards resolution,” he said.

“What is important is that we’ve arrived at the stage where both Cliffs and the province of Ontario are very comfortable in our announcement that the smelter is going in Ontario.”

One unresolved issue is whether the company will be granted an exemption to process some materials outside of Canada, and Cliffs is also concerned about Ontario’s high electricity rates.

“That was and is a topic of discussion, as is the processing,” said Bartolucci.

He promised details of the agreement would be made public when it’s finalized “in the coming months.”

In the legislature, the New Democrats said processing of chromite in Ontario is key to keeping jobs in the province and criticized Bartolucci for saying those details had not yet been hammered out.

“We think that’s a pretty important detail to be worked out and thousands of good jobs rely on that detail,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

“If we’re going to build a prosperous and sustainable future we need to be smart and focus on creating those good jobs.”

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said people in the north were celebrating the announcement and accused Horwath of “nit picking.”

Bartolucci said First Nations must be “front and centre” as the development proceeds around the Ring of Fire, which also holds the potential for production of nickel, copper and platinum.

Duncan told the legislature the Cliffs’ investment would mean employment for 1,200 First Nations in Ontario.

But one First Nations chief Wednesday accused Bartolucci of trying to head off aboriginal opposition to the Cliffs mine and refinery “in a last ditch effort of questionable morality.”

Chief Sonny Gagnon of the Aroland First Nation said a secret meeting arranged late Tuesday between him, the chief of Marten Falls and provincial officials raises serious questions about Bartolucci’s ethics.

“We asked the minister to pause the Cliffs announcement on the refinery, but Bartolucci said he had no control over Cliffs,” Gagnon said in a release.

“Who is really running this province? Our elected officials or an American mining company?”

The First Nations are worried about the environmental impact of the developments, saying it “threatens to open up a remote region of Ontario to uncontrolled mining development, dramatically alter river systems and discharge toxic pollution.”

“The Cliffs project is the canary in the coal mine of the Harper government’s rollback of environmental regulation,” said Gagnon.