Ontario has approved another small step on the long journey to build an all-season road to the Ring of Fire minerals area in the province’s far north.
The province granted the terms of reference for an environmental assessment of the Northern Link road, the last terms approved among the three roads planned for the area 540 km northeast of Thunder Bay. The plans were submitted by the Webequie and Marten Falls First Nations. The Northern Link is to connect the two communities and potential mining projects.
“I value our partnership with these strong leaders who are central to our government’s mandate to develop the Ring of Fire,” George Pirie, Minister of Mines, said in a news release accompanying remarks on Monday at PDAC in Toronto. “The Ring of Fire has the critical minerals we need to build our manufacturing supply chain, including nickel for electric vehicles and chromite for clean steel.”
The cost of the roads isn’t clear although Victoria, B.C.-based The Narwhal, citing memos in the government of Premier Doug Ford, said it’s estimated at more than $2 billion.
Environmentalists and at least several Indigenous communities in the region, such as the Neskantaga First Nation and several James Bay communities such as Attawapiskat, are opposed to mining and roads they say will desecrate the area. The boggy peatlands and muskeg swamps are difficult to build through and hold millions of tonnes of carbon. Construction would cause its release, outweighing the benefits from mining metals for green energy, they say. (Mushkegowuk Council communities have proposed their own road, however, to link some James Bay coastal communities to the provincial highway system.) Meeting mineral demand to fight climate change is one of the main planks wielded by project supporters.