The momentum for Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s cherished Plan Nord received a big boost Aug. 1 with the announcement that Stornoway Diamonds will contribute $44 million to help extend Route 167, which will eventually lead to the company’s planned diamond mine in the Otish Mountains.

Stornoway President and CEO Matt Manson joined Charest and Grand Council representative Abel Bosum in Chibougamau for the announcement. Also present at the press conference were Pierre Corbeil, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and Transport Minister Norman MacMillan.

Manson announced that Stornoway will also contribute to long-term road maintenance.

“As a potential industrial user of the road, we are stepping up and offering to put some money into its development,” said Manson. The company has agreed to contribute up to $5,000 per kilometre, or $1.215 million a year, to road maintenance during the duration of the mining operation.

The new portion of the 167 will be a multi-service provincial highway that will connect Stornoway’s projected Renard project at Lac Albanel (Temiscamie) to Mistissini and Chibougamau. This Route will also serve as a gateway to a series of other potential mining projects that were outlined in the Plan Nord as well as the Albanel-Temiscamie-Otish Park, which is still pending government approval.

“The road will take between three and five years to build and be finalized, but within 18 months they are telling us that it will be available to navigate as the construction is going on. It will be a bit of a rough journey but we can mobilize our construction trucks for the mine by the middle of 2013,” said Manson.

He went on to say that subject to receiving the proper permitting, construction for the mine is due to begin by mid 2013. The mine would then be operating during the first half of 2015 if everything goes to plan.

Stornoway began exploration on the Foxtrot property around the Otish Mountains, near Mistissini, back in 1998 but it was only in 2001 that the company, in a joint venture with Crown Corporation Soquen, discovered what was to become the Renard Project.

Not only will the Renard project be Quebec’s first diamond mine but the quality of diamonds discovered within the Otish Mountains have been assessed at being above the average market quality.

Stornoway Vice-President Ghislain Poirier has previously told the Nation that the quality of Stornoway’s diamonds will fetch an average price of $117 per carat, compared to the world average of about $80-$90/ carat.

Filling in for Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, Bosum said the Cree support the extension of 167 as a way to facilitate economic development in Eeyou Istchee.

“At the same time, it was necessary to mention certain Cree priorities and one of them of course is that the road is located on the traditional territory of the Cree Nation of Mistissini and so this project directly affects Cree rights and interests under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement,” said Bosum.

Bosum went on to say that the Crees must share in the benefits associated with the road extension project and that means that they must share in the jobs and the contracts created by this development.

However, Bosum said the Crees’ desire for environmental protection is a major aspect for both the mine and the road construction, with a particular interest in protecting the endangered woodland caribou in this area.

Bosum closed by announcing that a new office for the Commission de la construction du Québec will be opening up in the region to accommodate all of the new and ongoing projects that are part of the Plan Nord.