12/08/2014 05:00 EST | Updated 02/06/2015 05:59 EST

Town of Schefferville, Que. says it’s not ready for a mining boom

The town of Schefferville, Que. says the mining boom is straining the remote northern community's infrastructure, and it needs help from the provincial government to support the sudden influx of temporary workers.

Schefferville is in northeastern Quebec – a fly-in community due north of Sept-Îles, just a few kilometres from the Labrador border.

It was built near rich iron deposits along what's known as the Labrador Trough.

The mine pits were abandoned about thirty years ago, but a spike in iron prices in 2011 sparked interest in the old sites, and mining companies have returned to the region.

The town population has doubled with "fly-in/fly-out" workers – mining employees who don't live in town, but fly in for several days, then return home when they get time off.

Province should pay for new infrastructure, says town

Schefferville's administrator, Paul Joncas, wants provincial money to pay for major infrastructure investment.

"We have work to do on the drinking water system, the sewage system, the infrastructure," he said.

"When the price [of ore] goes up, the mining companies are coming back and they want to go fast."

Joncas estimates it would cost about $25 million to fix the roads, drinking water and sewage systems. That's too large a burden for the local taxpayers, he says.

The town of 230 has an annual budget of $1.8 million.

Joncas says the companies that use Schefferville's services don't pay industrial taxes because all their mining activities are in Labrador, but he says it's just a matter of time before the companies start digging in Quebec.

Joncas says the town is so ill-prepared for a local boom now, it would be "madness" if there were one.

Proposed Plan Nord leaves Schefferville out

Gilles Porlier is a longtime resident of Schefferville who owns many businesses in town. He is frustrated with the so-called Plan Nord, the province's plan to develop natural resources in northern Quebec.

"There is no Plan Nord in Schefferville," Porlier said. 

However, Joncas says he's hopeful as the Plan Nord moves forward, the province will come up with solutions to help towns like his, because the current system isn't nimble enough to react quickly, to get the most out of mining's boom cycles.

"I think they don't adapt all the regulations to the mining boom," he says of the government "and with the Sociétédu Plan Nord I think they will do exactly that."

The province has set up a Plan Nord Society to determine how best to develop Quebec's north in conjunction with communities that are already there.