A road connecting remote First Nations in Northern Ontario's Ring of Fire region to the south would cost $264-million to $559-million, according to a government-funded study that reviewed a range of options.
The All-Season Community Road Study has not yet been made public, but The Globe and Mail has obtained a copy of the 147-page document, which is described as final and is dated June 30, 2016.
The $785,000 study was paid for by the federal and provincial governments. Ottawa and Ontario are considering options to address the needs of remote First Nations while also responding to the potential for major mining development in Ontario's far north if the region is made accessible through a new road or rail line.
The Ring of Fire is a large mineral deposit about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay. It is estimated that it would be worth billions if resources companies had road or rail access. That has prompted Ontario to pledge $1-billion toward infrastructure in the region, and the province has called on Ottawa to match that amount. The study involved discussions with four small and remote northern communities: Webequie First Nation, Eabametoong First Nation, Neskantaga First Nation and Nibinamik First Nation. Technical work was conducted by SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., a global engineering and construction firm.
The cost estimate varies based on the route options and whether the roads would be paved. The figures are similar to an industry estimate from 2012 that a road to the Ring of Fire would cost about $500-million. One mining firm with interests in the region – KWG Resources Inc. – released its own estimate on Friday from GreenForest Management Inc., a company with experience building logging roads. That estimate put the price at $83.6-million to $99.9-million to access the deposits and up to $73.1-million more to connect area First Nations to the main road.
The Globe reported on Thursday based on a summary of the report's conclusions that the year-long process failed to reach a consensus on whether the four communities support or oppose a road. The full version provides an in-depth account of what residents of the First Nations and off-reserve members see as the pros and cons of a road to the south.
Among the positives, people said road access would make it easier for parents to visit children who must move away to attend high school. Cheaper food and other goods from the south are also viewed as a benefit, along with new links between First Nations communities. Common concerns were that a road could bring more hunters from the south, which could negatively affect trap lines and other traditional hunting practices. Many fear that more drugs and alcohol could reach the communities.
Bruce Achneepineskum, chief of Marten Falls First Nation, which is south of the Ring of Fire but was not part of the road study, said his community is working with investors on a separate study focused on a north-south road to the Ring of Fire that would also connect his fly-in First Nation to the south.
Mr. Achneepineskum said he believes the benefits of an all-weather road are clear, given that it costs about 52 cents a pound to transport goods into the community.
"Your wallet shrinks pretty fast," he said. "The road would bring down the cost of living in remote communities. It would free up money to further construction, build more houses, people could buy more food and it would allow a little bit of freedom for those residents to come in and out of the community and mingle with the outside world."