By Alan Coutts, President and CEO
When a mine is built in Ontario, the mining company is usually responsible for the Environmental Assessment (EA) and access road construction. This makes the company the “proponent” of the development.
Because there is potential for several mines to be developed in the Ring of Fire, and the closest rail or highway is almost 300 km away, the province of Ontario is funding infrastructure to support the region, as it is in the interest of all Ontarians for development to take place.
Soon after the province announced a $1 billion commitment to build infrastructure for the Ring of Fire, Noront received Terms of Reference for the Eagle’s Nest Mine EA. We were asked to consult with several First Nations communities and ensure their enhanced participation in the EA process. This request related to environmental sensitivities, traditional land-use, and the gathering of Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge for the mine and the 300 km road.
Upon receiving this, Noront management decided to re-think the entire permitting process. Since the access road crosses traditional land belonging to local First Nation communities, why not have the communities themselves be the proponents who lead the road proposals?
The province agreed with this approach and solicited submissions from the communities resulting in two First Nation-led road proposals: an East-West route championed by Webequie and Nibinamik and a North-South route with Marten Falls as the proponent.
Noront is transferring engineering and environmental information on the road routes to the new First Nation proponents, and along with four provincial ministries, we are providing technical consultation to the communities. We believe that having the First Nations with the traditional land use as proponents for the road is a creative and appropriate model to permit infrastructure, and we are proud to be participating in this novel approach to resource development in Ontario.