The provincial government says its taking an important next step toward developing the Ring of Fire.

On Monday in Thunder Bay, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced construction will begin soon on an all-season road that will help connect three first nation communities and also allow access to the giant chromite deposit.

Wynne said the province will be working with the Webequie, Marten Falls and Nibinamik First Nations to plan and construct a year-round east-west access road into the proposed mining development site. 

Noront Resources, which signed a US$20-million deal to buy claims in the region that were owned indirectly by Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. after it pulled out in 2013, said it looks forward to working closely with the province and First Nations communities on road construction and mine development.

“Today’s announcement is a major step forward for Noront as we prepare to develop our nickel and chromite deposits in the Ring of Fire,” said Alan Coutts, President & CEO, Noront Resources Ltd, in a statement.

Establishment of a road network with agreement on industrial access is our most important project advancement milestone and we are very pleased to see it move ahead. We look forward to working closely with the province and First Nations communities through the road construction and mine development processes.”

The province said communities are working to begin environmental assessments of these projects by January 2018, and the plan is to begin construction in 2019; pending all necessary approvals.

The government said it is committed to moving forward with the regional framework agreement signed in 2014 with all nine Matawa First Nations to work together on regional long-term environmental monitoring, resource revenue sharing, economic supports, and infrastructure.

“I am grateful to the Matawa First Nations who have been working with us for years to get to this historic day,” said Wynne.

“The entire Ring of Fire region has huge potential for development that would benefit all of the communities involved and the entire province — creating new jobs and improving the quality of life for people in the North. Getting shovels in the ground to build this connection to the Ring of Fire will move us forward towards unlocking its full potential.”

 “We have been working towards development of the region with Ontario for a few years and are glad to finally have an agreement to connect to the provincial highway. As the historical occupants of the Ring of Fire, we believe that mining development must be both environmentally and economically sustainable and we want to develop infrastructure that enables a multi-generational chromite opportunity,” added Chief Bruce Achneepineskum, Marten Falls First Nation.

The Ring of Fire is a mining area about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay that holds one of the world's richest deposits of chromite — used to make stainless steel — as well as nickel, copper and platinum, valued at anywhere from $30 billion to $60 billion.

The Ontario government has so far unsuccessfully pressed the federal government to match its planned $1-billion investment.

In statements, both Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown and NDP leader Andrea Horwath criticized the province for a lack of action on the Ring of Fire.

“They are only in the North now because we’re a year out from an election. Any promise Kathleen Wynne makes on the Ring of Fire today she will break if she wins again,” said Brown.

 “The next election is going to be about who will make it easier for families to make ends meet and get ahead. Only the Ontario PC Party will make Northern Ontario a priority.  One of my first actions as Premier would be to take real and tangible action on the Ring of Fire.” 

“Ontario families, especially northern and Indigenous communities, are tired of waiting for the Ring of Fire. There are people hurting because of the shortage of good jobs in their home community – jobs they can raise a family on. It doesn’t have to be this way. With a new government – one willing to take the Ring of Fire off the backburner and make it a priority – we will see action quickly," said Horwath

with files from The Canadian Press