Four northern Ontario cities —  Sudbury, Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay —  are in the running to be home to a ferrochrome smelter which will process chromite from the Ring of Fire mineral deposit.

But Noront Resources Ltd. CEO Alan Coutts says the first minerals out of the ground will be nickel concentrate, to be processed in Sudbury.

Now that the provincial government has committed to funding the road infrastructure to the Ring of Fire, Coutts told CBC's Morning North that his company plans to develop a mine at its Eagle's Nest project first. The site — 530 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay —  is rich in high-grade nickel, copper, platinum and palladium.

"The reason we selected that to be the first mine is because there is already existing smelting capacities for those minerals in Sudbury," Coutts said.

alan coutts and vic fedeli

Noront Resources CEO Alan Coutts, shown here with MPP Vic Fedeli, says the first batch of minerals from Eagle's Nest will be processed in Sudbury. (Supplied)

Plenty of benefits to go around

But bringing the first batch of ore to Sudbury doesn't necessarily mean it will be given preferential treatment when the time comes to decide the location of the ferrochrome smelter, said Bruce Jago, director of the Goodman School of Mines at Laurentian University.

"Relationships do get built and positive relationships, they bode well for the future," Jago said. "But there's a railroad track to all four candidates for chromite smelters."

Jago said Sudburians shouldn't be disappointed if Noront decides to put the smelter in another location. The Ring of Fire project stands to benefit the entire northern part of the province.

"There's lots of benefit," Jago said. "[Noront Resources] has to build a mine, a processing facility, and roads. All of this is good for Ontario."

"There are goods and services utilized to build it," he added. "And we know Sudbury is the capital in Ontario of mining supply and services."

Bruce Jago

Bruce Jago, executive director of Goodman School of Mines in Sudbury, Ont., says news of the province's commitment to the Ring of Fire demonstrates that discussions with Indigenous communities went well. (Goodman School of Mines)

Indigenous support key to Ring of Fire

One of the encouraging elements to the province's decision to start the project are the communities involved with the deposit. Jago said there's obviously been a "bit of conversation" with Indigenous communities who stand to benefit from the project.

"That demonstrates that Indigenous negotiations have gone well, and it's nice that it has happened," Jago said.

Noront is expected to decide the location of its ferrochrome smelter by the end of this year.

Eagle's Nest

The Eagle's Nest mineral deposit is located approximately 530 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay. (

With files from Martha Dillman