Little Engine that Could pushes rail solution in Ring of Fire – by Wendy Parker (In Support of – September 16, 2013)

Ontario Mining and Lands Commissioner Report

Boy! Divert your attention for a few days to deal with some pressing business matters, and all heck breaks loose in Ontario’s Ring of Fire mineral zone.

Thanks to a news release from KWG Resources, we learned last week that Ontario’s Mining and Lands Commissioner has rejected a bid from Cliffs Natural Resources for leave to seek an easement that would allow it to build an all-weather access road across a string of mining claims owned by Canada Chrome Corporation, a KWG subsidiary.

Cliffs wanted to dispense with the need to obtain the claimholder’s consent before applying for the easement under the Public Lands Act. The Commissioner’s tribunal, after hearing evidence and arguments in February, found no clear public interest that would outweigh the potential damage such an easement might do to the claimholder’s rights under the Mining Act.

As a result, the Cliffs request failed.

That’s a nutshell version of the decision, of course. The actual September 10 Order is much more nuanced and intricate. It is well worth reading in its 43-page entirety, both for the logic it applies to its deliberations and for the light it casts on a fascinating story behind Ring of Fire development.

It also raises intriguing questions about the extent and meaning of “public interest” in this opportunity of a generation.

Alas, this long-awaited decision has thrown Ontario’s Ring of Fire into even more confusion than usual.

It puts Cliffs behind the eight-ball in its plans to access a rich chromite deposit about 350 kilometres north of the CN rail line. The company, which earlier this year backburnered its environmental assessment and feasibility study activities, is now mulling its options. It could appeal the ruling. It could shelve its project. Or it could try another approach with its plucky little rival.

In the meantime, however, the spotlight has shifted to KWG’s proposed railway. KWG sees the line as a boost its own chromite interests, while serving other Ring of Fire participants and the remote First Nations communities that surround the mineral zone.

The minister responsible for the region has told a Thunder Bay news outlet that he has yet to see a business plan for the proposed railway, but KWG has made no secret of its plans. In fact, it has been remarkably public about its ideas and far more detailed about them than, for instance, Cliffs, with its vague proposal for some road or other that would run somewhere along the esker and may — or may not — be open to residents of the isolated communities it passes.
KWG has spent millions of dollars on engineering and geotechnical studies for its proposal. It has formed an alliance with workers and customers of an existing railway company — the provincially owned Ontario Northland. It has made strenuous efforts to involve the Ring’s First Nations communities and has put hard benefits — an equity stake and eventual ownership — on the table for them.

It has demonstrated that it is deadly serious about its railway proposal. That it believes so fervently in this solution to the infrastructure challenge that it will not be shunted aside by deep-pocketed corporations or government indifference.

In short, it has become Ontario’s Little Engine that Could.

KWG has reiterated its position in a news release today. It deserves more than the usual brush-off in response.

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