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Council backs bid to land Ring of Fire smelter

Unanimous support to encourage Noront Resources to select joint bid from Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation.
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Doug Murray
Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission CEO Doug Murray (Matt Vis, tbnewswatch.com)

THUNDER BAY – City council is endorsing efforts to land a Ring of Fire smelter in Thunder Bay that could eventually create as many as 500 direct jobs.

Council on Monday night unanimously passed a resolution in support of being the host site for Noront Resource’s ferrochrome processor, which would prepare chromite mined from the far north development to be manufactured into stainless steel.

Thunder Bay’s joint bid with Fort William First Nation is one of four Northern Ontario cities – along with Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins – vying to bring the plant to their community.

“I feel this would be a tremendous boost to the city of Thunder Bay and economic development in our city,” Coun. Joe Virdiramo said.

“Having this plant here in Northwestern Ontario makes the export of the product to the U.S. a lot closer. Therefore the company that’s proposing this could produce it at a lower cost.”

A pair of public open houses were held last week, with nearly 130 people attending the second one.

The Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission is leading the city’s bid and chief executive officer Doug Murray said he is optimistic.

“We have some significant infrastructure here in Thunder Bay,” Murray said, citing the two brownfield sites and the Thunder Bay Generating Station as specific examples. “We have a real potential for First Nation involvement for the people in this area.

Murray said the first phase of the processor would generate up to 350 jobs, with a second phase bringing the total number up to nearly 500.

The Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation proposal would have the chromite trucked to the city from the Aroland and Nakina area. Murray said any of the eastern bids would require the material to be sent a greater distance through rail.

The smelter would benefit the entire region, Murray said.

“There’s going to be a whole secondary industry of support services,” Murray said. “The mining and production of ferrochrome doesn’t occur anywhere in North America. Now we’re going to be able to do research to do it more sustainably, more economically, more beneficial from a climate change point of view. That could be done at the university. That could be done here.”

Cliffs Natural Resources, a former major Ring of Fire stakeholder, had selected Sudbury – over Thunder Bay – as the site of their smelter in 2012. That project was ultimately shelved after the company sold their Ring of Fire assets and stepped away from the development in 2015.