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Cliffs eyes early 2013 for smelter environmental review

By: Northern Ontario Business Staff

 | Oct 26, 2012 - 2:54 PM |
Jason Aagenes (centre), director of environmental affairs for ferroalloys with Cliffs Natural Resources, speaks to visitors during a public open house in Capreol on Oct. 25. The company is currently undertaking an environmental assessment on its plan for the development of a chromite mine in the Ring of Fire area of the James Bay Lowlands in Northern Ontario. Photo by Lindsay Kelly.

Jason Aagenes (centre), director of environmental affairs for ferroalloys with Cliffs Natural Resources, speaks to visitors during a public open house in Capreol on Oct. 25. The company is currently undertaking an environmental assessment on its plan for the development of a chromite mine in the Ring of Fire area of the James Bay Lowlands in Northern Ontario. Photo by Lindsay Kelly.

Permitting to follow after EA approval

Cliffs Natural Resources expects the environmental assessment (EA) for its ferrochrome processing facility in Capreol to be complete and submitted for government review by the first half of 2013, with approval coming by mid-2014.

The company, which is planning to develop its Black Thor chromite deposit in the Ring of Fire area of the James Bay Lowlands, outlined the current stage of the EA process during a media briefing and public open house in Capreol on Oct. 25. The session was designed to provide an update on the EA process and glean input from residents.

Jason Aagenes, Cliffs’ director of environmental affairs for ferroalloys, said all four components of the project—the mine, concentrator, transportation corridor and ferrochrome processing facility—are being subject to the combined provincial and federal environmental assessment, which is moving forward as an integrated process.

“The purpose of the environmental assessment is to take a look at the existing environment—and we’ve been conducting baseline monitoring for a couple of years now—then take a look at the project as it’s designed and you estimate any impacts on the existing environment,” Aagenes said.

The EA studies impacts to the human element, including First Nations land use, health and safety and socioeconomic factors; the physical element (land, air, water); and the biological element (fish, wildlife, vegetation, insect life).

The project will then be redesigned to eliminate, mitigate or otherwise reduce any anticipated negative impacts, Aagenes added. A number of the project’s components are still being determined, including the mine site layout, a water source, a method for discharge of treated affluent, and mine closure and decommissioning.

Though early in the EA process, Aagenes said Cliffs has been consulting with federal and provincial agencies for more than two years to develop this amalgamated approach. Cliffs volunteered to undergo the most rigorous type of provincial EA, an individual assessment, even though it wasn’t required, he said.

“It’s consistent with our interest in having a robust environmental assessment—everything is adequately covered—but it also matches up very well with the federal comprehensive study,” Aagenes said. “The two of these processes match together very well, so it lent itself to an integrated approach.”

Designed for a 30-year life span, the single open-pit mine will move 110,000 tonnes of material per day. It’s estimated 3,300 tonnes of concentrated ore will be transported down a 340 km-long all-weather road and transferred to rail before reaching the processing facility in Capreol. That translates to about 100, 85-tonne trucks per day, or one truck every 15 minutes.

Concentrate will be packed into sealed boxes similar to cargo containers found on ships or transport-trailers and remain sealed until they arrive at the processing facility. “The first time they’re opened will be inside the furnace building here in Capreol,” Aagenes said.

The containers will be opened, unloaded, closed and shipped back to the mine site for reuse.

Aagenes said community consultation is not only important to inform the design of the project, but it’s also a requirement of the EA process. Community and government consultation will continue throughout the development process, he said.

Integral to that is input from the seven nearby First Nations, including Wahnapitae First Nation, located just outside of Sudbury, which is assisting Cliffs with its environmental review process.

“We rely on their expertise and knowledge of the area to help inform the environmental assessment,” Aagenes said.

Once the EA is submitted for government assessment, the review period lasts an average of 62 weeks, but can start and stop depending on the public consultation periods mixed in throughout that review period, Aagenes said. The idea is to provide plenty of opportunity for public review.

Permitting for the project will follow immediately after the EA is approved. Aagenes said much of the permitting process is being conducted in parallel to the EA process, since many of the same agencies are involved.

Cliffs’ is still aiming to have its entire operation up and running by 2016, but that could change, depending on the results of the EA and the feasibility study, which are being conducted simultaneously, Aagenes said. The company will then assess the findings of the two reports, industry conditions and Cliffs’ cash position to make its final decision on startup.

“We’ve always acknowledged we’re in the feasibility stage of this process,” Aagenes said. “There’s still a lot of work that has to occur, so the schedule will be evaluated after these pieces come together.”

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