Ferrochrome refinery siting decision rekindles call for East-West access to the Ring of Fire

by Keith Powell
Close up picture of CN train locomotive.

The Sault to Sioux Transload Strategy (SSTS) advocates the rail shipment of minerals between Sioux Lookout and Sault Ste. Marie utilizing the direct CN Rail connection. — Photo courtesy CN Rail

This week, Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance was quick to congratulate officials at NorOnt Resources and the City of Sault Ste. Marie on the recent decision to locate a ferrochrome refinery to process minerals from the Ring of Fire. The Finnish Ambassador to Canada suggests this undertaking is modelled on a Finnish ferrochrome refining facility.

But where does Sioux Lookout fit in this unfolding success story? For several years the Sioux Lookout Mayor and Council have supported the efforts by municipal staff to strengthen economic development relations with Finland, a global powerhouse in ferrochrome refining, biomass energy production and forestry. As well as developing strong ties with Sault Ste. Marie.

The Sault to Sioux Transload Strategy (SSTS) ratified between Sioux Lookout and Sault Ste. Marie (Ontario) in 2017, was of strategic interest to the various Finnish officials and advisors visiting the community. The SSTC advocates the rail shipment of minerals between the two communities utilizing the direct CN Rail connection, once the East-West road is constructed between the Ring of Fire and a transloading site is built in Sioux Lookout.

Sioux Lookout is an outspoken proponent of an East –West access, going as far as sponsoring members of The East-West Ring of Fire Road Coalition (EWRFC) delegation to the recent Prospectors and Developers Conference to educate decision makers on the merits of this road alignment.

The EWRFC was conceived to represent municipalities, First Nation communities and businesses in North-Western Ontario supporting the construction of a four-season access road into the Far North.  This will build on the current success of First Nation businesses in Sioux Lookout and other regional communities. The Coalition partner communities include Sioux Lookout, Sioux Narrows, Kenora, Machin, Red Lake, Ear Falls, Dryden, Ignace, Sioux Lookout and Pickle Lake.

The East-West road route (Hwy 599, 516, 72 to the Trans Canada Highway 17) would optimize existing road alignments, piggyback on pending hydro grid construction and use existing logistics and supply networks. We anticipate this route would lessen the environmental impacts (including wetland and peatlands) and avoid expensive, problematic large-scale water crossings.

Mayor Lawrance concluded, “With the Sault Ste.Marie refinery decision made, the true value of the Sault to Sioux Transload Strategy is even more obvious. An Environmental Assessment on the East-West linkage is long overdue. The Municipality of Sioux Lookout submitted a request for a quick start to the responsible Federal and Provincial  Ministers responsible, earlier today. Our municipal Council hopes many other communities and organizations in the Great Northwest will do the same. 

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