Open house showcases potential of Red Rock port project by BMI

By Austin Campbell
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A proposed project to develop a heavy cargo port in Red Rock was presented to area residents last week.

Members of the public were invited to commemorate the opening of a new shop at the mill site, followed by site tours, an open-house discussion event, and a community barbecue on Thursday in an event organized by the BMI Group and the Red Rock Indian Band.

Red Rock Indian Band Chief Marcus Hardy said his outlook on the project is “very positive.”

“All you have to do is really look around,” Hardy said. “I’m extremely happy and satisfied with the amount of work that has happened over the past year… you can see the amount of work that has happened. So, it gives the public and community members that proof — we said we were going to do something and we’ve done it, we’re doing it.”

The Red Rock Indian Band has a 51 per cent stake in development of the property.

Hardy described the project as a “hand-in-hand partnership.”

“It’s our trucks and our labour-force,” said Hardy. “It’s going to pay-off in the long run.”

Hardy said one of the biggest priorities has been their environmental assessment, stressing that the Red Rock Indian Band has been working closely with BMI Group, Scatliff + Miller + Murray, and Pinchin to safely eliminate pollution and toxins from the land.

“I think first and foremost is taking care of the contaminants,” said Hardy. “That’s the most important thing… [is] taking care of the environment.”

One such environmental concern is the closure of a landfill on the property, which will not take place for about two years, said site supervisor Jesse Oatman.

“We’re still in the cleanup phase but we’re hoping to start construction in the spring,” said Oatman. “That would be on the port and other projects.”

Despite the length of the process, a promising outlook on when construction can begin plus current progress on the project is bringing positive buzz and a sense of hope to residents of Red Rock township.

“The plans have taken awhile to come to fruition here in Red Rock,” said Justus Veldman, managing partner and one of three Veldman brothers who own BMI Group. “But we’re excited [about] this next phase… and pretty proud to be partners with the Red Rock Indian Band… so upwards and onwards.”

It has been more than a decade since BMI, formerly known as Riversedge Developments, acquired the mill site for just $10 during a municipal tax sale in 2014.

The mill that was originally at the site closed in 2006 and left 300 people without jobs.

BMI Group’s investment is now in-line with other major developments happening across northern Ontario.

“When you come to the North, you can see the excitement,” said Veldman. “All of the mining activities and the EV supply chain that both the provincial and federal governments are supplying and getting behind is really driving the industrial footprints back into activity all the way along Lake Superior.”

That being said, questions have been raised in the past about BMI’s ambitious development plans and the length of time it has taken for their projects to get up-and-running.

“We’ve kind of been burnt in the past and we don’t want to go down that road again,” said Red Rock Mayor Darquise Robinson. “That was… too hard for the community.”

The property certainly has a long history — and, after a tax dispute in 2020 wherein Riversedge Developments was sued by Red Rock for over $2 million in property taxes, it seems proof of action and intent were well-needed to convince members of the community that BMI could deliver on it’s promises for the site.

Robinson noted that she believes the decision to host an open-house fosters goodwill among the people and inspires trust that the project is a reality.

“It’s absolutely fantastic for the community,” said Robinson. “At least, now, we can talk about what their plans are. Moving forward, we hope to see more development. I think they’re doing a great job.”

Robinson pointed to other developments in the township as a sign of positive change.

“BMI Group has started building homes in Red Rock, renovating homes,” said Robinson. “To see some things going on here, I think that’s a game-changer. I think seeing [homes] being built, I think that started to change the conversation in Red Rock.”

With the site where the old Red Rock mill used to be mostly cleared and the environmental assessment well under way, the promise of an increase in jobs is an additional morale booster.

“We’re talking about the shipping port — is there going to be jobs?” Robinson said.

“Do people still have to travel to go away to work? Maybe they can actually live and work in the community again, so I think that’s positive… When people have jobs and they’re living and working at home, you have a better well-being for yourself and for your family… and that’s more investment into Red Rock [as well].”