Cliffs Natural Resources has appealed a decision by the Ontario Mining and Lands Commissioner that stops Cliffs from building an all-weather road to the Ring of Fire over mining claims held by another company. KWG Resources, which through its subsidiary company Canada Chrome Corporation holds mining claims Cliffs wants to cross with its proposed $600-million road, received notice of the appeal Oct. 9.
Cliffs planned the 340-kilometre road to transport ore south from its proposed Black Thor chromite mine to Nakina, where it would then be taken by rail to a ferrochrome processing plant to be built near Sudbury. But KWG did not consent to the right-of-way requested by Cliffs for building the road over the Canada Chrome claims, staked on high ground in 2009 for a future railroad to the Ring of Fire mining development.
That put the matter before the mining commissioner, Linda Kamerman, in 2012. This fall, on Sept. 10, she dismissed the application from Cliffs for the easement.
“Canada Chrome Corporation’s ability to work its claims will be negatively affected by the existence of a road and all that goes with it, including the movement of numerous heavy trucks every day,” she wrote in her 43-page ruling. At the same time, she found that insufficient evidence had been produced “to conclude that two equally well-built transportation systems … could be situated on the sand ridge or esker (of Canada Chrome’s claims).” As a result, “the interests of both parties cannot be balanced,” she concluded.
The commissioner’s decision “does jeopardize the viability of the project going forward unless it can be resolved,” Jason Aagenes, director of environmental affairs for Cliffs, told Wawatay News before the ruling was appealed. “We feel that if the Ring of Fire is to proceed this needs to be addressed by the government.”
KWG, meanwhile, has ownership interest in two major chromite deposits in the Ring of Fire – Big Daddy and Black Horse. The Montreal-based company is back to promoting a railway for the Ring of Fire – more costly than a road to build but cheaper to operate over the long term.
“Our idea for transportation is very simple,” Frank Smeenk, president and CEO of KWG, said in an Oct. 16 presentation at a mining forum hosted by the Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund (NADF) in Timmins. “We think the Ontario Northland Railway Network should provide the transportation, extending its line from Hearst to the Ring of Fire.”
The Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, which the province plans to sell, should become a regional transportation authority and operate the line on a cost-recovery basis, Smeenk suggested. First Nations could participate in the governance of the new regional utility, he added.
“From a construction point of view, it’s doable within five years,” Moe Lavigne, KWG vice-president of exploration and development, said of the $2-billion railway option.
“The issue that we’ve been grappling with over the last few years … we’ve had this cloud over our heads because we were in front of the mining and lands commissioner. Now that cloud has been lifted. Now the issue is more political. It’s to get some sort of agreement amongst our political leadership … that this is the best thing that the public control access into the Ring of Fire and out, and it’s not to be put into the hands of a single mining company.”
To that end Grand Chief Stan Louttit of Mushkegowuk Council and Mayor Tom Laughren of Timmins wrote in September to Premier Kathleen Wynne and Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking that the proposed transportation authority be created, Smeenk said.