Government funding for a $785,000 study of a road to the Ring of Fire is a "welcome move" for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, but the environmental group says more needs to be done to look at the region-wide impacts of the proposed mining development in northern Ontario.
The federal and provincial governments announced Sunday that they'll jointly fund a study looking at a road that would connect the remote Webequie, Eabametoong, Nibinamik and Neskantaga First Nations to the provincial highway at Pickle Lake, Ont. about 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay.
The environmental group hopes it acts as a "springboard" for further study and a comprehensive, region-wide development plan for the nickel and chromite deposits in northern Ontario's James Bay lowlands.
"Once a road goes in, it has a whole cascade of effects," said Anna Baggio, the Ontario planning director for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society's Wildlands League. "There are alternatives in terms of where these roads could go and that needs to be looked at and fully costed and accounted for in a transparent way."
A broader study of potential transportation routes and the impact of mining in the muskeg need not cause further delays in the project that has been slow to live up to its billing as an economic powerhouse in the province, Baggio said.
'Haven't even started'
"You can do it in 18 months to 24 months," she said. "We're not saying you have to stop everything, but you do have to get started and they haven't even started."
The social and environmental impacts could be measured with a view to entire watersheds, Baggio said. For example, both the Albany and Attawapiskat Rivers intersect with the ring of mineral deposits and may need to be crossed by a transportation corridor.
"Right now it's all piecemeal, everybody gets to throw a dart at a board and they get to put their marker down but no one is saying, 'Holy cannolis, what are all the plans for the region for the next 20 to 30 years?'" she said.
Noront Resources, the most active mining company currently operating in the Ring of Fire stands to gain most if the road currently being studied is built. The company is already planning for a road running west from its proposed nickel operation to Pickle Lake.
"This funding will help First Nation communities in the Ring of Fire benefit from construction of Noront's east-west access road," Noront president Alan Coutts said in a news release.