Reaction in Thunder Bay to Cliffs Natural Resources announcement that it will locate its ferrochrome smelter in the Sudbury area is one of disappointment.
Mayor Keith Hobbs said "it was like coming to a funeral," when he attended a press conference Wednesday morning where he learned the mining company would process the chromite from its Ring of Fire mining project in Sudbury.
Natural Resources minister Michael Gravelle said northwestern Ontario would benefit from the project, and spoke about the number of overall jobs that would be created and how the northwest would play a role in the Ring of Fire development.
Cliffs announces $3.3-billion investment
Cliffs Natural Resources has announced a $3.3-billion investment to build a chromite mine, transportation corridor and processing facility in northern Ontario's Ring of Fire that would lead to a new generation of prosperity in the north, with thousands of jobs and new infrastructure.
The Ring of Fire represents one of the most significant mineral regions in the province, and includes the largest deposit of chromite ever discovered in North America. The chromite found in this area, 540 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, is a key ingredient used to create stainless steel.
Cliffs intends to build a $1.8-billion chromite processing facility in Capreol, part of Sudbury. This would employ 450 people during construction, and as many as 450 people when the facility is in operation. Mine and mill development, as well as the construction and operation of transportation infrastructure, could create an additional 750 jobs, plus hundreds of indirect employment opportunities for northern Ontarians and First Nations' communities.
But that didn't ease the concerns of municipal and First Nations leaders in the room.
According to Thunder Bay CBC News reporter Jeff Walters, Hobbs said consultation between the minister and Cliffs obviously didn't happen. Hobbs said there was a lack of leadership, adding he was disappointed in Gravelle — and refused to shake his hand.
"He didn't fight for the region … this was all about a riding in Sudbury," Hobbs said.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kathleen Wynne said the decision was based on business — and not politics.
Either way, the outcome means the province has to go back to the table and re-evaluate the situation, said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Terry Waboose.
He said a lack of consultation has been shown and he'll be speaking with other NAN leaders before taking any "next steps."
The announcement also dismayed the chief of Aroland First Nation, who said the province attempted, at the last-minute, to buy off Ring of Fire First Nations.
Sonny Gagnon said Northern Development and Mines minister Rick Bartolucci arranged a sudden meeting late Tuesday to try to head off First Nations' opposition to the Cliffs chromite mine and refinery.
"They offered things that we'd asked for in the past ... when we started this," Gagnon said. "They wanted to develop a framework of some sort to address what our needs were … all of a sudden, at the eleventh hour, we [got our] meeting with the minister."
Gagnon said he asked Bartolucci for a delay in the Cliffs announcement about the refinery’s location, however he said he was told the minister had no control over Cliffs Natural Resources.
"Who's in control here of the land," Gagnon said. "[Is] the province … giving industry or an American company total control of our land? This, to me, is wrong."
Gagnon noted Sudbury may have been chosen to be home base for Cliffs' smelter, but the chromium still sits in the ground in First Nation's territory.
The chief, whose First Nation community is located near Greenstone, Ont., said he was already prepared to be disappointed with Wednesday's announcement.
Gagnon said he believed Cliffs and the provincial government struck a backroom deal to locate a chromite smelter for the Ring of Fire in Sudbury.
Cliffs used Sudbury as its base case for an environmental assessment.
In addition, after a recent meeting with the company in Thunder Bay, Gagnon said Cliffs wouldn't commit to another meeting with area First Nations.
But Bill Boor, a senior vice president with Cliffs, said the company intends to work with First Nations to eventually extend the hydro grid to the chromite mine. Initially, Cliffs will use diesel generators to power the mine.
Several communities hoped for smelter
The company is also negotiating with the province to develop a north-south road from Greenstone to the mine site.
Several communities were in the running for the smelter, including Sudbury, Timmins, Thunder Bay and Greenstone. First Nations had been lobbying for a location on the CNR line between Aroland and Nakina.
Cliffs plans to start mining chromite in the Ring of Fire area by the end of 2013.
The mine is expected to produce for 30 years.