Ring of Fire: Fly-in First Nations throw monkey wrench into $1 billion all-seasons road project

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The Globe and Mail reports that Premier Kathleen Wynne is warning fly-in First Nations in Northern Ontario they must quickly agree on the construction of a road into their region – one that would also serve mining interests in the so-called Ring of Fire – or she will negotiate unilaterally with those communities that want the project.

Ontario government said three years ago that  it would spend as much as $1-billion to create an all-season road that would make development possible in the massive cache of chromite and other minerals as it connects to some reserves that are not currently accessible by car,” the newspaper reported.

But little progress has been made, in part because the First Nations do not agree among themselves on how to proceed and are concerned about losing jurisdictional rights in the process. Negotiations with provincial officials have not always been productive.

The Globe and Mail says recently Wynne held a tense meeting at Queen’s Park with chiefs of the nine Matawa First Nations, five of which are fly-in reserves, to tell them that her patience is running out and she cannot guarantee the money will stay on the table if decisions are not made quickly. The road was not included in April’s budget.

She also told the chiefs that, if they could not come to a consensus on the road’s construction, she would work one-on-one with those communities that are prepared to move forward.

In a follow-up letter, the Premier wrote to the chiefs to reiterate her position.

“My government announced $1-(billion) to support infrastructure into the Ring of Fire three years ago and if we are going to deliver on that we can delay no further,” Wynne said in the letter, which was obtained by The Globe and Mail. “While I continue to hope progress can be made, I am prepared to continue to advance discussions with those First Nations that would like to pursue transportation infrastructure through our bilateral processes.”

The Ring of Fire, a 5,000-sq. km. area about 540 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, is estimated to have $60-billion in mineral deposits that require land transport to get them to market.

“Having all-season road access is of paramount importance,” Noront Resources Ltd. chief executive Alan Coutts told the Globe and Mail. “Without having surety and certainty around the infrastructure and the timeline for development, it makes it nearly impossible for us to finance our works and projects.”

 

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