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Federal consultation period being extended for Ring of Fire assessment process

Ottawa looking for public and community input to draft parameters of regional impact study
james bay region
James Bay region (Ontario government photo)

Ottawa is following Queen's Park lead in allowing more time for locked-down remote Indigenous communities to express their comments and concerns on the potential impact of mining in the Far North.

The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) is extending the commenting period beyond the original Jan. 21 deadline to allow the public, Indigenous communities and other organizations to provide input on shaping the terms of reference surrounding the federal Regional Assessment of the Ring of Fire area in the James Bay region.

No new deadline for taking comments has yet been posted on the IAAC's project home page.

Due to pandemic-related meeting and travel restrictions, "the agency will be providing further opportunities to contribute to the planning of the Regional Assessment in the Ring of Fire area, including to the terms of reference," the IAAC said in an email to Northern Ontario Business.

"The January 21, 2021 deadline will therefore be revised to a later date once the agency has a better understanding of Indigenous communities’ ability to participate in this part of the process."

With all the remote communities having travel bans with no face-to-face meetings allowed and no possibility of even meeting with band members, First Nations have demanded that there be a pause in both the provincial and federal environment assessment processes on the access and supply roads, and the region-wide implications of development in this greenfield area.

"The agency will continue to carry out engagement activities to learn how best to proceed with the planning of the Regional Assessment, while prioritizing the health and safety of communities. Information on upcoming opportunities will be posted on the Regional Assessment in the Ring of Fire area Registry home page in a timely manner," the IACC said in the response.

Individuals and organization with input or questions about the Regional Assessment for the Ring of Fire area can email the agency at: [email protected]

Drafting the terms of reference (ToR) takes place at the early stages of the environmental assessment process. It involves putting together the study parameters and the general work plan, with public input, for how this comprehensive study will be carried out.

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The resulting ToR document will outline the study area, the various factors to be considered, along with the study timelines and other pertinent details.

The Ontario government earlier decided to extend the consultation deadlines with area First Nations on the provincial environmental assessment process for the access roads to the Ring of Fire.

The richness of the mineral deposits in the Ring of Fire, 540 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, stands to be a multi-generational socio-economic and environmental impact for the Indigenous people in an area where there never been any kind of industrial development.

On projects of this scale, the feds decided instead of doing a series of one-off, individual assessments of each proposed project, a wider assessment process would help all the relevant federal agencies better understand the cumulative effects of an existing or anticipated development from a regional standpoint, allowing them to make better planning and management decisions.

The first Regional Assessment was called in January 2020, studying the potential impact of exploratory oil and gas drilling off Newfoundland and Labrador.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan assured the province and mine developer Noront Resources last year that this new process can be done in conjunction with the provincial environmental assessment processes, and shouldn't result in any lengthy delays to mine development.

Noront wants to brings its first underground mine, Eagle's Nest, into production in mid-2025.