The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.
Developing the mineral-rich Ring of Fire area of Northwestern Ontario could be pushed back years if Cliffs Natural Resources appeals a ruling by the Ontario Mining and Lands Commissioner, a mining rival suggested Wednesday.
The commissioner has dismissed an application by a subsidiary of Cliffs for an easement over mining claims staked in the Ring of Fire by Canada Chrome Corp., a subsidiary of rival KWG Resources Ltd.
Through 2274659 Ontario Inc., Cliffs applied for the easement to build an all-weather road to transport ore from its Black Thor deposit in the Ring of Fire, about 540 kilometres Northeast of Thunder Bay, to Nakina.
From there, it would be shipped by rail to a ferrochrome processing plant to be built in Capreol. Cliffs has 30 days to decide if it will appeal the ruling, which KWG’s Moe Lavigne heralded as “vindication” of his company’s interpretation of the Ontario Mining Act.
If Cliffs doesn’t appeal the decision, it must pay KWG’s costs to fight the application at the tribunal, which sat for seve ra l days in February, expenses estimated by Lavigne at $1 million.
Lavigne, vice-president of exploration and development for KWG and Canada Chrome, said his company will move ahead with discussions about reviving the rail portion of the Ontar io Nor thland Transportation Commission and creating a port authority to run a rail line.
If Cliffs appeals the ruling, the case would be heard by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice or it would go to a judicial review. It could take five years for those appeals to work their way through the courts, Lavigne said.
That would result in stalemate in developing the Ring of Fire, and “it’s not just us that suffers. This is much bigger than just us and Cliffs.”
“What works best for everybody is to get the Ring of Fire into production as soon as possible and going to court is just simply going to delay everything for everybody,” he said.
“Hopefully common sense and the greater good will prevail here, because if it does go to court, it’s going to hold up the Ring of Fire for another five years. Who knows? Who knows? You don’t know with courts, right?”
In a statement, Cliffs’ spokeswoman Patricia Persico said the Cleveland-based company is considering all its options before deciding if it will appeal.
The decision was “disappointing,” said Persico in an email.
“Cliffs believes its proposed north-south, all-weather road, which crosses unpatented mining claims of KWG Resources and other resource companies, is essential to the development of the Ring of Fire and a necessary component of Cliffs’ Chromite Project.”
Cliffs believes developing the road will “provide greater opportunity for all-weather road access to remote First Nations communities in the Far North and create significant economic benefit opportunities for First Nations, resource companies and stakeholders in the region, as well as the province as a whole,” said Persico.
She said Cliffs will continue to work with the province, First Nations and other companies to “overcome this roadblock and develop what will ultimately be impor tant infrastructure in the Ring of Fire.
Bill Boor, senior vice-president of global ferroalloys for Cliffs, announced in May 2012 that his company’s timeline for developing its chromite deposit was 2015 and that it planned to build a $1.8-billion smelter in Capreol by that time, creating as many as 500 jobs.
Those plans virtually halted in June when Cliffs announced it was temporarily suspending its environmental assessment activities in the Ring of Fire, stalling development of the $3.4-billion project.
Boor had earlier moved the timeline for the start of mining in the Ring of Fire to 2016 and then 2017.
On Wednesday, Lavigne said KWG staked claims to about 340 of esker, sand and gravel in the middle of the Ring of Fire for rail transport after the deposits were discovered in 2007. It has since conducted two studies showing the $1.6-billion price tag for a rail line would be raised through flow-share shares and other methods, not with taxpayers’ dollars.
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