Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne announced on August 21 that the provincial government had signed agreements with three First Nations to build an access road to the Ring of Fire.

Wynne told reporters in Thunder Bay the government is working with Webequie, Nibinamik and Marten Falls First Nations to plan and build a road that will provide all-season access to the communities and to the Ring of Fire.

The provincial government will help the communities build an east-west road connecting Webequie and Nibinamik First Nations communities to the province’s highway network north of Pickle Lake, and another road connecting Marten Falls to the highway network.

Wynne said the communities will begin environmental assessments by January, with construction slated for 2019.

“The entire Ring of Fire region has huge potential for development that would benefit all of the communities involved and the entire province,” Wynne said in a statement. “Getting shovels in the ground to build this connection to the Ring of Fire will move us forward towards unlocking its full potential.”

In May, Wynne wrote in a letter to nine Matawa First Nations in the area that she wanted to see “meaningful progress in weeks, not months.” The government signed an agreement with the Nations in 2014 to work on environmental monitoring, resource revenue sharing, infrastructure and economic supports.

The access road is part of the government’s 2014 pledge to invest $1 billion to develop infrastructure for the Ring of Fire. So far, attempts to get the federal government to match Ontario’s commitment have failed.

The Ring of Fire, located in the James Bay lowlands about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, has one of the world’s richest chromite deposits, and also contains nickel, copper and platinum. According to the provincial government, the deposits have an estimated value of $60 billion.

Noront Resources, which paid US$20-million for Cliffs Natural Resources’ chromite claims in 2014 and owns claims covering 65 per cent of the region, said the announcement was a “major step forward” for the region.

“Construction of all-season industrial and community access roads is one of the key things we’ve been working toward with the government and our First Nations partners,” CEO Alan Coutts said in a statement. “I am very pleased to see it moving forward.”