Sudbury

Cliffs Natural Resources-Noront Resources deal puts new Sudbury smelter in limbo

A proposal for a new smelter in Sudbury has been pushed further into limbo after Cliffs Natural Resources announced a deal to sell off its Ring of Fire assets.

Smelter plant hinged on yet to be negotiated power rates, tax dollars to access Ring of Fire

A tapper taps nickel-copper matt in the flash furnace of Vale SA smelter complex in Copper Cliff, Ont. in 2010. Plans for a new smelter in Sudbury are in limbo after Cliffs Natural Resources announced the sale of its chromite assets to junior miner Noront Resources.

A proposal for a new smelter in Sudbury has been pushed further into limbo after Cliffs Natural Resources announced a deal to sell off its Ring of Fire assets. 

The Cleveland-based company said Monday it had entered into a definitive agreement with Noront Resources to purchase its chromite deposits and associated claims for $20 million.

Then Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci announced in 2012 that Cliffs would be building a smelter in Capreol, north of Sudbury, to process the chromite it mined in the far north — along with hundreds of jobs. The company even started taking job applications. 

However, the new plant hinged on yet to be negotiated power rates, as well as tax dollars, to access the remote Ring of Fire. Neither issue has been settled since. 

With the sale of Cliffs' chromite assets and associated claims to Noront Resources, the ball is effectively in Noront's park. 

However, CEO Al Coutts said the company is focusing on mining at this point — not smelting.

'Transaction's not final,' mayor says

"Really, what we got to do is we got to step back a little bit, spend a little bit of time understanding what we got and how we're going to advance this," he said.

Lobbying efforts will continue with Noront over the smelter issue, according to former Sudbury Chamber of Commerce chair David Boyce.

"We have, obviously, significant expertise in mining and smelting and any company would be foolish not to look at Sudbury as a region to consider for processing of ore from the Ring of Fire," Boyce said.

But Cliffs exit from the Ring of Fire doesn't come as a surprise to Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger. However, he said he hopes the plan to process chromite in Sudbury can be salvaged.

"Obviously, the transaction's not final and it's difficult to speculate at this time what will come forward for Sudbury or the timing of Sudbury," said Bigger.

Noront said it hopes to mine a nickel-copper-platinum deposit in the Ring of Fire first. Those metals would likely be processed at existing smelters in Sudbury.

At the close of the company's deal with Cliffs, Noront is expected to hold roughly 65 per cent — 80,000 hectares — of the Ring of Fire mining development, according to a company press release. The acquisition includes 100 per cent interest in the Black Thor deposit and Black Label deposit, as well as 80 per cent ownership of the McFauld's Lake copper zinc resource.

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