Duncan says yes to Nunavut’s Mary River iron mine

Next step is NIRB project certificate workshop

By Jim Bell

This map shows the path of location of Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.'s Mary River iron mine project, along with the planned roads, railways and shipping routes. (FILE IMAGE)

This map shows the path of location of Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s Mary River iron mine project, along with the planned roads, railways and shipping routes. (FILE IMAGE)

(updated 7:15 p.m., Dec. 3)

John Duncan, the northern development minister, said yes to the Mary River iron mine project Dec. 3, closing a four-year-long chapter in the project’s regulatory journey that opens up a new phase leading to the issuing of licences and permits.

“It’s absolutely a positive development. While the minister’s sign off is an important step, there is will a lot of work to do in the next phases,” said Greg Missal, vice-president of corporate affairs at Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.

Missal said the next steps include a project certificate workshop that the Nunavut Impact Review Board will oversee, likely late this year or very early next year.

A letter signed by Elizabeth Copland, the chairperson of the NIRB, suggests that the review board is eager to get that work done as soon as possible.

“To assist with the development of the Project Certificate, the NIRB will schedule a project certificate workshop in Iqaluit later this month, with dates to be announced as soon as possible,” Copland said.

Before issuing the project certificate, the NIRB will ensure that all parties understand what they must do to meet the many recommendations that NIRB included in its final public hearing report this past September.

“The board would also like to ensure that all associated terms and conditions are clearly understood by the responsible parties and are clarified where necessary to allow for full implementation and incorporation into applicable regulatory instruments,” Copland said.

Baffinland must also continue to work on lease negotiations with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and the federal government and start discussions with the Nunavut Water Board on a water licence.

And Missal said Baffinland and QIA have put a lot of work into an Inuit impact and benefits agreement that the two sides hope to get wrapped up as soon as possible.

Another unfinished task is to negotiate a surface lease between QIA and Baffinland for Inuit owned lands.

This past July, QIA and Baffinland issued a joint statement saying lawyers for both parties are still working on “outstanding issues” related to the IIBA and land leases.

“Documents are now in the hands of respective counsel for QIA and BIMC who are working towards resolution of outstanding issues and completion of final legal text for execution by the parties,” the July 15 joint statement said.

However, QIA president Okalik Eegeesiak declared Dec. 3 that the project will bring big benefits to Inuit.

“The QIA looks forward to working with all parties to bring the socio-economic benefits to Inuit and our communities,” Eegeesiak said in a news release.

Eegeesiak praised Duncan’s approval, saying it marks “an important and significant milestone.”

“The NIRB process was the first step in collaboration with Inuit and industry to ensure the plans for the project were thoroughly reviewed,” she said.

Leona Aglukkaq, Nunavut MP and federal minister responsible for health, the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and the Arctic Council, said the Mary River project shows “Canada’s North is home to world-class natural resources representing a tremendous economic opportunity.”

Duncan issued his decision with the agreement of the other federal ministers who head departments responsible for regulating aspects of the project: Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources and Transport Canada.

To make his decision, Duncan and other federal officials used a 356-page report that the NIRB issued Sept. 14, following a set of final public hearings that started in July.

That report recommended 184 terms and conditions to regulate the $4 billion project.

That has now been whittled down to 182 terms and conditions, some of which will be clarified at the upcoming project certificate workshop.

“My colleagues and I would like to point out that there are terms and conditions, such as 101, 174, and 177, among others, that will required clarification at the project certificate workshop but we are confident that these can be dealt with at that time,” Duncan said in a letter to the NIRB.

The NIRB’s recommendations include:

• the establishment of working groups to help monitor the marine environment, the terrestrial environment, and the creation of new duties for the existing Qikiqtaaluk Socio-Economic Monitoring Committee;

• ensuring communities affected by the project are consulted continuously through the life of the project on the best ways of preventing or limiting negative effects from the mine;

• a requirement that access to project information be centralized, including monitoring and regulatory information; and,

• imposing limits on the total number of ships travelling the shipping route during the open water season: no more than 20 ore carrier transits to Steensby Port per month during the open water season and 242 transits per year in total.

Missal said Duncan’s office asked questions about two of those conditions: one was a repetition of an existing condition, and the other was to clarify the meaning of a term whose wording the minister’s staff found confusing.

Baffinland, owned 70 per cent by the global steel giant Arcelor Mittal and 30 per cent by private investment firm Iron Ore Holdings LP, proposed a 21-year project in its application to regulators.

Baffinland wants to extract about 18 million tonnes of iron ore each year and ship it from a port at Steensby Inlet connected to the mine site by a railway.

From the Steensby port, huge, 320-metre icebreaking ore vessels would move 12 months of the year through Foxe Basin and Hudson Strait to steelmakers in Europe.

Baffinland hopes to begin construction some time in 2013.

That’s all good news, said Cathie Bolstad, president of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines.

She said Duncan’s decision to approve the project would help “bolster mining investor confidence in Nunavut,” where mining exploration expenditures dropped by 20 per cent in 2012.

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