Canadian Mining Journal

Feature

Infrastructure back in vogue

Renewed emphasis on infrastructure.



Stornoway Diamond officially opened Quebec’s first diamond mine, Renard, last October.

Located in the Otish Mountains in north-central Quebec, 360 km north of Chibougamau, the mine, would never have been built without road access.

Plan Nord, the Quebec government’s plan to open up more of the resource-rich province to development, was enacted just in time to make Renard possible. Launched originally in 2011 and then relaunched in 2014, the plan calls for $2.7 billion in total public and private investment between 2015 and 2040.

Under the auspices of Plan Nord, a 240-km all-weather road from Chibougamau to Renard was completed in September 2014. The first 143 km was built by the province and the last 97 km by Stornoway – with financing made available by the province.

It’s fitting that at the same time we were putting together this issue, with a focus on Quebec, there have been two new infrastructure announcements in other parts of Canada aimed specifically at enabling mining activity.

On Aug. 21, the Ontario government announced that it is moving ahead with its long-promised $1-billion all-weather road into the Ring of Fire. And on Sept. 2, the federal and Yukon governments committed $360 million ($247.4 million from the feds and $112.8 million from the territory) to improve road access in two mineral-rich areas of the territory: the Dawson Range in central Yukon and the Nahanni Range in southeastern Yukon.

The “Yukon Resource Gateway Project” will help upgrade over 650 km of road and build or replace bridges, culverts and stream crossings in the two areas.

In a press release, the governments explained the investment would “set the stage for the long-term development of the territory’s growing mining sector.”

In the case of the Ring of Fire, the Ontario government originally pledged $1 billion toward road infrastructure in 2014. Three years later, it has only come to an agreement with three First Nations communities.

It has agreed to fund an east-west road connecting the Webequie and Nibinamik communities to the provincial highway network north of Pickle Lake, and continuing through Webequie to the Ring of Fire. It has also committed to funding a northsouth road to Marten Falls First Nation, with an a possible extension to the Ring of Fire.

Environmental assessments are expected to begin by January, and construction is planned to start in 2019, if all approvals are granted.

However, not all the First Nations in the region are onboard. Eabametoong and Neskantaga, who were not part of the announcement, have made it clear that the development can’t proceed without them. And even the communities that were part of the announcement say they’ve only agreed to a study on the proposed development.

Provided it moves ahead, a road into the Ring of Fire would most benefit Noront Resources and its Eagle’s Nest nickel-copper-PGM project – as well as the isolated First Nations communities in the region. But it would certainly also encourage a lot of mineral exploration in an as-yet underexplored area of the province.

Neither announcement is the bold vision that Plan Nord represents. But they are a step in the right direction, and could provide a nice shot in the arm for a still suffering industry.


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