A 2013 expression of Ring of Fire optimism now sounds dispiriting: “With the support of the critical parties, planning and permitting for the main all-weather access road could be completed in 2014, and actual construction operations could commence in 2015.” That was the conclusion of a study commissioned by KWG Resources CSE:KWG three years ago but not published until August 26.
The company posted the 18-page “preliminary scoping exercise” on its website four days after CBC reported that a federally and provincially funded study on the same subject had been completed but not released. Although anticipated to herald a breakthrough, that study simply called for more study, the network stated. Moreover the report didn’t even consider a route to the proposed mining region, focusing only on connecting four native bands with a highway.
Release of the $785,000 report would be up to the four communities that led it, Ontario mines minister Michael Gravelle told the CBC. The network somehow obtained a copy but quoted only a few short excerpts.KWG president Frank Smeenk tells ResourceClips.com he wanted to counter disappointment with “an alternative that is feasible, financeable and attractive.”
KWG’s study estimated the cost of connecting its proposed north-south rail line with an existing road near Pickle Lake, about 305 kilometres west, between $83.6 million and $99.9 million. Trunk roads to four reserves would add another $36.1 million to $73.1 million. The four communities total roughly 2,500 people, according to numbers then available to the researchers.
The study didn’t consider expenses related to potential cultural or archaeological surveys, or the environmental assessment.
As for the region’s existing winter road, access “appears … increasingly unreliable as a consequence of warmer winter temperatures.”
Socio-economic benefits would include training and employment, as well as easier access to health care, police, schools and social services. The road would lower shipping and personal travel costs. Economic spinoffs could encourage growth in forestry and tourism, along with industrial, mechanical, transportation, commercial, financial and legal sectors, according to the study.
It was conducted by GreenForest Management, a Thunder Bay-based firm whose previous work included planning, construction and maintenance of 700 kilometres of all-weather roads north of Sioux Lookout and of 360 kilometres of all-weather roads north of Nakina.
Smeenk calls the report, which cost KWG between $25,000 and $35,000, “a good news story” that counters disappointment in the government-funded study.
While a proponent of a north-south railway, Smeenk says year-round east-west road access will be “a necessary ingredient to building the rail, which in turn is a necessary ingredient to creating a mining camp at the Ring of Fire.” A railway would be necessary to develop chromite deposits, the company argues.
But Noront Resources TSXV:NOT proposes to develop its Eagle’s Nest nickel-copper-PGE project first, using an east-west road. That company holds about 75% of the region’s claims, having closed a 75% acquisition of MacDonald Mines Exploration’s (TSXV:BMK) RoF properties this week. Norontholds 70% of the Big Daddy chromite deposit and 85% of the McFaulds copper-zinc deposits. Norontis also KWG’s largest shareholder.
KWG holds 30% of Big Daddy, an 80% option on the Koper Lake project/Black Horse chromite deposit and 15% of McFaulds.
KWG has an agreement with China Railway First Survey and Design Institute Group to conduct a feasibility study on a link to a Canadian National Railway TSX:CNR line 340 kilometres south. China Railway expects to add that to the Ring of Fire library by year-end.
News of the government-funded study prompted opposition politicians to criticize the federal and provincial Liberals. But the proposals seem mired in the duty to consult. On August 25 the Globe and Mail stated it obtained that report’s three-page conclusion. “Some of the unresolved issues include who would own and manage the roads and how the new road connections would affect social assistance payments,” the paper stated. “Some social programs pay more to residents of remote fly-in communities.”
Late August 26 the G&M said it now had the entire 147-page final report, which estimated road-building costs between $264 million and $559 million. “Among the positives, people said road access would make it easier for parents to visit children who must move away to attend high school,” the story noted. “Cheaper food and other goods from the south are also viewed as a benefit, along with new links between first nations communities. Common concerns were that a road could bring more hunters from the south, which could negatively affect trap lines and other traditional hunting practices. Many fear that more drugs and alcohol could reach the communities.”
While emphasizing the positive, Smeenk seems resigned to slow progress. “Clearly nothing is going to be built in that part of Canada without social licence,” he emphasizes. “We’ve flown a number of trial balloons on how that might best be accomplished. The best is that the first nations whose traditional territories will be traversed by this transportation infrastructure should be equal partners in it. So we’ve proposed to the first nations of Webequie and Marten Falls that we create an equal partnership in both the mine and transportation.”
In June KWG announced that chiefs of those bands were considering a proposal to place its mining claims in a limited partnership to be held half by KWG and half by the two communities. To buy their way in, KWG offered the bands a non-recourse loan of $40 million.
This week a Webequie drum group opened a new drill program at Eagle’s Nest “to ensure minimal disturbance to the land and water and for the health and safety of the workers,” Noront stated. The project reached feasibility in 2012. Earlier this month, in apparent expectation of the latest government-funded study, Noront said it “anticipates that mine construction will begin in 2018 when road construction starts, resulting in first concentrate production in 2021.”
Despite pessimistic reports of the government-funded study, Noront reiterated its expectation that Ontario will “make a joint announcement with local first nations regarding plans for a shared regional access road before the end of this year.”
The province has committed $1 billion for RoF infrastructure and has asked Ottawa for matching funds.