A staked corridor into the Ring of Fire was done illegally, accuses a First Nations chief.
In 2009 KWG Resources staked a north-south corridor leading into the area as a proposed rail route. The staked area was vital for the project as a series of sand ridges averaging 100 metres wide covered an otherwise impassable stretch of land.
Cliffs Natural Resources wants to use that same corridor for an all-weather road. Recently officials with the Cleveland-based mining company said their plans for the Ring of Fire might be in jeopardy if the province doesn't step in and allow for construction of the all-season road.
Marten Falls chief Eli Moonias said Wednesday that the corridor was staked illegally and without consultation with his community while members were protesting near the Ring of Fire in 2009.
"If they had worked with us from the beginning we might not be in the position that we're in now," he said during an interview with CKPR Radio Wednesday.
Moe Lavigne, KWG's vice-president of exploration and development, said that under the provincial mining act the only way to make claims is to stake them, which is what the company did.
"They are legal," he said.
Marten Falls was consulted when the claims were staked, Lavigne added.
Harry Baxter, who was chief of Marten Falls at the time, even had a company that provided logistics and fuel to KWG.
"He wasn't there when the consultation took place, it was his predecessor," Lavigne said, adding that KWG has always had a difficult relationship with Moonias.
"We still do to this day.”
Moonias said his community favours Cliffs' road option over KWG's rail proposal as its more economically viable.
Lavinge said he believes that in the past six months it appears Cliffs has worked hard to get Marten Falls on board with its ideas for the Ring of Fire. But consulting one particular First Nation doesn't give a company exclusive access to the Ring of Fire. Every mining development has multiple companies with multiple projects.
Lavigne said that recent comments by Cliffs that the province needs to intervene or its particular project is in jeopardy doesn't mean that the Ring of Fire in general is in trouble.
"The Ring of Fire is not going to stop because Cliffs is threatening to walk away," he said. "Cliffs using politics instead of the law to try and get what they want."
The biggest threat to the Ring of Fire though is transportation. If there's no way to get the minerals to market, they're worthless Lavigne said.
KWG argues that an independent railway managed by Northwestern Ontario communities, including First Nations communities, is the best way to ship those minerals. Port Authorities are able to borrow money at the same rate as the federal government, which makes long-term borrowing easier and cheaper than a company could get money Lavinge said.
"This is the model that we've been supporting for a number of years now," he said.
Moonias said there hasn't been consultation on that either.
"You don't talk to us, it's not going to happen," he said. "You have to talk to us first."
Lavigne said some First Nations are on board with the idea but it will take the support of all communities in the area to make it work. It will also take the provincial and federal government realizing that the Ring of Fire isn't about one company but an opportunity for the entire country to capitalize on a new industry.
"So far our two levels of government haven't stepped in," he said.
KWG's proposal would tie into the Ontario Northland Railway and create 340 kilometres of new track into the Ring of Fire development.