Groups urge review board to hold hearings on Nunavut iron mine
“They are asking the people living in the Arctic to assume the burden of an increased environmental risk”
If recent correspondence is any indication, the Nunavut Impact Review Board will likely be persuaded to hold public hearings to reconsider the terms and conditions of the Baffinland Mary River iron mine’s current project certificate.
Five federal departments, the Government of Nunavut, two organizations and one individual have all submitted letters to the NIRB and it’s nearly unanimous: amendments to Baffinland’s Phase 2 project in north Baffin are significant enough to trigger full project reconsideration.
The most detailed letter comes from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association.
The QIA says the amended project proposal — which would see, among other things, more iron ore traffic down the tote road from the mine site to Milne Inlet and almost year-round shipping near sensitive marine habitats — is a huge departure from what the company proposed in its original Phase 2 project.
“The potential for pronounced impacts on community-based traditional and subsistence activities is a serious matter which deserves an open discussion in a public forum,” says the QIA’s Aug. 19 letter.
The Baffin Inuit organization also says that the current Inuit Impact and Benefits Agreement would have to be renegotiated to reflect “year-round commercial shipping,” something that was written into the current multi-million-dollar IIBA.
Although the Phase 2 project was rejected by the Nunavut Planning Commission April 8, the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development overruled the NPC and sent the project amendments to the NIRB for review.
The NIRB must now decide whether Nunavut Land Claims Agreement provisions under Section 12 should trigger a project certificate reconsideration for Baffinland Phase 2 and thus full public hearings on potential new terms and conditions.
The QIA certainly thinks so, and for a number of reasons, including:
• increased traffic on the tote road is “unprecedented in Arctic mining operations” and could create a significant wildlife barrier, especially for caribou whose population numbers will likely increase over the mine’s lifespan;
• increased shipping and proposed ice-breaking could significantly impact marine wildlife;
• seasonal baseline data on marine species, their migration, and habitat along the shipping route are “weak or lacking”;
• potential impacts on nearby communities especially Pond Inlet are a concern for residents due to the “the frequency and duration of shipping activities both in winter and the open water season”; and,
• increase in site infrastructure and hazardous materials will be in storage at the Milne Inlet dock facility.
The QIA also asked about intervenor funding, saying money should not be a barrier for members of the public who may want to attend any future public hearings.
Helen Gerson, the only individual to submit a letter to the NIRB, is a respected expert on narwhal social organization and behaviour.
She has concerns that Baffinland’s increased shipping noise and activity will impact prime summering areas for pods of narwhal and is urging the NIRB to prevent 10 months of annual shipping in and out of Eclipse Sound, near Pond Inlet.
She also fears contamination from fuel storage tanks, hearing damage to narwhals and the potential for more invasive marine species to appear in the area due to increased shipping from Europe.
“The company, Baffinland, has taken a calculated risk; they must have known that prices of iron ore rise and fall,” she writes.
“Now, because of falling iron ore prices, they are asking the people living in the Arctic to assume the burden of an increased environmental risk.”
Five federal departments all weighed in on the subject but only one stopped short of saying the NLCA would trigger a Mary River reconsideration and, interestingly, that department is Aboriginal Affairs — the department that overruled the NPC to speed up the regulatory process.
A detailed and technical six-page letter says that AANDC is “unable at this time to determine whether the reasons advanced by Baffinland do or do not trigger an NCLA 12.8.2 (b) reconsideration.”
When asked to comment on whether they felt that the issue had aroused “significant public concern,” AANDC said that after a survey of public comments and media on the subject, “it appears Mary River Phase 2 could potentially arouse public concern.”
But it suggests in order to accurately gauge that, the NIRB should hold stakeholder consultation as part of the project reconsideration.
You can read all the correspondence on this subject by going here.