A decision on a lifeline into the Ring of Fire has left one company feeling vindicated and another disappointed.
Surrounded by muskeg, claims in the proposed mining area are nearly inaccessible by land. But nature left a narrow strip of sand ridges, averaging 100 metres wide, from Exton all the way to the South end of the mineral deposits heralded as a massive economic boom for the region.
Those ridges were staked in 2009 by KWG Resources for a proposed railway. In 2012 Cliffs Natural Resources applied for 122 easements to build its proposed road around the same strip of land.
On Tuesday Ontario’s Mining and Lands Commissioner dismissed those applications after a week of hearings in February. Cliffs’ environmental director Jason Aagenes said the company is disappointed.
“We view the North-South road as a key component to our project and the Ring of Fire in general,” he said. But KWG’s vice-president of exploration and development, Moe Lavinge, said it proves what his company has said all along.
“We staked the high ground for the purpose of building a railroad,” he said. “They can’t just walk in and take that away from us.”
Cliffs argues that a road is cheaper and can be used as a main corridor for nearby First Nations communities to tie into so they no longer have to rely on air travel or winter roads.
Lavinge said the narrow strip of land is the only viable route to travel. With up to 100 trucks a day proposed to use the road once mines open, that wouldn’t leave much room for the public to travel.
And having a road and a railway isn’t possible.
“There’s barely enough materials to build a railroad by itself,” he said.
As for the cost, which documents estimate could be more than $1 billion for the railway, Lavigne said in the long run transportation by rail is six times cheaper than using trucks.
Having a railway owned by the public and First Nations communities, removed from company ownership, that charges by the ton is the best way to haul minerals out of the area.
“By building a road what you’re actually doing is you’re imposing on any mining operation in the Ring of Fire a very high base cost to be able to make money,” he said.
“The last thing you want to do is set up an industry to fail.”
Cliffs has 30 days to appeal the decision. Aagenes said the company is weighing several options.
“We think this is a roadblock that we can overcome,” he said.