The Canadian government is helping study whether a road to the Ring of Fire mineral belt in northern Ontario is viable.
The $785,000 government-funded study to be carried out by First Nations groups is a tiny step toward the possible development of the Ring, a huge crescent of mostly chromite that some hope will bring economic prosperity to Canada's north.
If the road is ever built, four of the nine First Nations groups that surround the deposit would be able to use it to get in and out of their remote communities.
"It's a struggle to connect with mainstream society," Cornelius Wabasse, the chief of Webequie First Nation, said at a mining conference in Toronto.
The Ring is years away from being developed, if at all. It may never be economical to mine the vast deposit of chromite, a mineral used in making steel.
The study will look at an east-west road from Pickle Lake to the Ring, located 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.
It would provide access to a smaller nickel deposit that is owned by Noront Resources Ltd., which cannot mine the metal economically without a government-funded road.
Noront is pretty much the only company that is close to developing its deposit. The owner of largest chromite deposits, Cliffs Natural Resources, is trying to sell its land in the Ring.
The federal and Ontario government called the study an important milestone to developing the Ring.
But the announcement, made at the beginning of the annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, comes amid few signs that the excitement that once characterized the Ring will return any time soon.
The study is expected to take up to a year to be completed.