Call them the little chromite mouse that roared. Cliffs Natural Resources has grabbed the Ring of Fire spotlight over the last five years, but it's been the strategic and shrewd moves of KWG Resources' president-CEO Frank Smeenk that's now placed the Toronto-based junior miner at centre stage.
While the company's scheme for a low-cost model to develop the rich mineral deposits in the remote James Bay region was either deemed not credible or totally ignored at Queen's Park, KWG has emerged with possibly the only solution to develop the mineral deposits in the Far North and establish Ontario as a global leader in chromite production.
The company has the only viable and secured route to haul potentially millions of tonnes of chromite ore Far North for perhaps many generations to come.
The legwork they did back in 2009 to use mining claims to stake a 328-kilometre-long corridor for a future railroad was done out of practical necessity, but it's had wider ramifications.
"Getting stranded deposits to market is a movie I've seen a few times before in Canada," said Smeenk, a lawyer by training with close to 27 years in the resource industry "It was the obvious thing to do."
The area has no transportation infrastructure to speak of.
KWG's staked corridor runs almost entirely atop a glacial esker, a long gravel ridge that's the only elevated and dry ground out of the James Bay swamps to the Canadian National Railway's main line near Nakina.
That ground was coveted by Cliffs who duked it out with KWG at an Ontario Mining and Lands Commissioner hearing last year. Cliffs sought an easement to run a road up KWG's route to access its Black Thor deposit.
The tribunal's ruling in KWG's favour surprised many, including senior Northern Development and Mines officials, but not to Smeenk who relied on historical precedent in Ontario's mining history and the tools made available for developers within Ontario's own Mining Act.
Moe Lavigne, KWG's exploration and development vice-president, gives all the credit to his boss for realizing that ore stuck in the middle of the James Bay lowlands is worthless unless it can be hauled to market.
"He was the first person to really wrap his mind around this. This is the nature of Frank Smeenk: he thinks way ahead of everybody. He thinks long term and he committed the dollars to securing that route."
Armed with $18 million after selling its smelter royalty interests in three chromite deposits in the Ring. KWG had substantial...