Skip to content

Lithium miner keys in on proposed Red Rock port project

BMI Group and the Red Rock Indian Band have signed a memorandum of understanding with Rock Tech Lithium, linking their Red Rock port to a growing electric vehicle supply chain.

RED ROCK — Plans to develop a deep water port at a former mill site have taken a significant step forward, with a mining company looking to use the land as a key part of their lithium developments.

Last week, the BMI Group, Red Rock Indian Band, and mining company Rock Tech Lithium held an event at the site to announce and sign  a memorandum of understanding in the presence of local residents and media.

The agreement signed between all parties is meant to finalize assessment and development criteria for a 50-acre portion of the former Norampac Paper Mill site, which the BMI Group and the Red Rock Indian Band have developed a partnership to repurpose the site as a port.

“I think fundamentally for us, it’s about our partnership with the Red Rock Indian Band first,” said BMI group managing partner Paul Veldman. “I think we broke that news Dec. 1, 2022, and in a years time we’ve done a tremendous amount of good work together. We toured the province — PDAC and other mining conferences — setting the stage for infrastructure for the mining activity in this region, and today is a testament that that good work is paying off.”

Red Rock Indian Band Chief Marcus Hardy reiterated the fact that the work happening at the former mill site is a “true partnership” between BMI, the Indian Band, and Rock Tech — and that signing this new agreement is, naturally, the next step.

“[I’m] extremely excited for this new step in our memorandum of understanding,” Hardy said. “It’s bringing hope to the communities and we’re actually moving ahead and taking steps to [bring] this whole project to fruition. This project is… going to be very beneficial for job creation, for retaining families in these communities, bringing families into these communities - overall, I believe that it’s going to have a positive impact on the quality of life.”

Rock Tech CEO Dirk Harbecke echoed Hardy’s comments about the excitement for this new partnership.

“We have a long term relationship with the First Nations that are related to our mining site in Georgia Lake,” Harbecke said.

“The Red Rock Indian Band is one of these First Nations. The first time when we looked into opportunities here in Red Rock, it was [about] the middle of last year. Then, we saw that BMI Group came in and really enforced development of this site with very high dynamics and we clearly came to the conclusion that BMI Group, Red Rock Indian Band, and other First Nations [communities] here are very, very good partners for us in developing this project.”

If all goes according to plan, an intermodal transloading facility will be built on-site along with a planned lithium refinery. The site would be used to transfer mined material from either rail or truck traffic and have it loaded onto ships. The company is also exploring the possibility of having a lithium processing facility at the site.

The location — and partnership with BMI Group and the Red Rock Indian Band — is a strategic choice for Rock Tech Lithium.

“We see currently, globally, that there is a race for lithium and for battery metals,” Harbecke said.

“These battery metals need to be put to use nationally and regionally. We are currently developing a mining project nearby in the Georgia Lake area between Beardmore and Nipigon, and we decided a few months ago — after our first lithium converter in Germany — we want to build our next lithium converter here in Ontario… we screened a few locations and we really, really like this location here at Red Rock. It is very close to our future mining site and we feel really welcome by the community and by all stakeholders here.”

Rock Tech’s propsed Georgia Lake mine site lies just an hour north of Red Rock.

“What we are seeing here is that this location is really a perfect one,” Harbecke said, “because we have the access to Lake Superior here with a port, we have a railway line just next door, we have industrialized land, we have a community where people are willing to work, to develop things together with us.

"We have a comparable experience with the location that we have picked in Germany — also a rather smaller city there, with a former industrial site where the site got lost, and where we came and are working hand-in-hand and we are really welcome there… I have the same feeling here in Red Rock.”

The former mill site in Red Rock, then, is ideally situated for transportation and potential processing of materials mined at the proposed Georgia Lake mine. 

“What we are expecting is that we also have regional supply chains for the raw materials,” said Harbecke. “Europe is working a lot on its own mining opportunities and there might also be mined material coming, for example, from Africa, which is close to Europe, which can then be processed in Europe. And we strongly believe that North American mined material shall and can be used here in North America — and this is why we are pushing forward our plans for conversion plants here.”

Harbecke said that, if Rock Tech can partner with contractors who are already experienced with converter setup, he expects the lithium refinery to be up-and-running by 2027 — without converter partners, he predicts that timeline would shift back about a year to 2028.

Veldman said he expects Rock Tech to be one of many “tenants” who see the potential for business at the former mill site.

He specifically observed that the site has excellent “multimodal infrastructure” and shared his hope that the continued interest of potential tenants for the site will create “meaningful jobs.”

“It’s a multi-layered approach,” Veldman said. “When you think about infrastructure: loading trucks, unloading trucks, truck drivers, there’s about an approximate 400,000 tonnes of goods on an annual basis that would come into this and out of this process, so each truck - each rail car - needs to be driven, loaded, unloaded, each vessel… a big part of this theme is reinstating the port - those are all meaningful jobs and that’s our foundation. The plant itself, I believe they’re speaking upwards of 100 to 150 jobs. And then, of course, [there’s] the mine. So, you start layering that cake, you start thinking about jobs in construction for housing - we’re talking hundreds of new meaningful jobs. [In] 2006, the mill shut down - that was 300 direct jobs… it’s our ambition to exceed those numbers.”

Veldman noted that he anticipates that the port will be open for business as soon as August 2024, barring delays or hiccups.

On Monday, rail work is set to begin to reinstate rail access to the mill site. Veldman said that reinstating full rail access will be a “year-long process.”

In other words, 2024 is set to be a big year for development in Red Rock.

With the ball officially rolling at the former Norempac Paper Mill site, it appears that BMI Group, the Red Rock Indian Band, and now Rock Tech Lithium are making important progress and taking steps that make the goal of 2024 seem more realistic.

Echoing her previous comments from the open house BMI Group and the Red Rock Indian Band held last month, Mayor Darquise Robinson said that the whole thing is “quick” and “exciting”.

“Red Rock has been waiting a long time for this — for something to happen at the old mill site — so it’s pretty incredible actually,” Robinson said.

“It’s huge for Red Rock… we have a lot of families [where] their husbands or their spouses work out-of-town. They work at the mining sites in Geraldton, in Timmins, and all over the place, so… if there’s a possibility for people to work at home - work where you live… it’s great for family life, it’s obviously great for the community, for all the businesses in town, it will attract more business… it’s a win-win for Red Rock.”

Austin Campbell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Austin Campbell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Austin Campbell is a local journal initiative reporter covering stories in the Superior North region.
Read more


push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks