Regional Inuit org “disappointed” with Valcourt exemption of Mary River proposal

Oceans North says it’s “a terrible precedent”


Baffinland's port at Milne Inlet, built to ship iron ore from the nearby Mary River mine (PHOTO COURTESY OF BAFFINLAND)

Baffinland’s port at Milne Inlet, built to ship iron ore from the nearby Mary River mine (PHOTO COURTESY OF BAFFINLAND)

Updated at 3:30 p.m.

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association says it is “disappointed” in a decision by the federal government that allows a proposal from Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. to bypass a regional land use plan.

In a letter dated July 13, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development minister Bernard Valcourt exempted Baffinland’s “Phase 2” proposal for the expansion of iron ore production and shipping at Mary River from the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan.

Baffinland operates the Mary River iron mine, located about 150 kilometres from Pond Inlet.

At the same time, Valcourt has referred the proposal directly to the Nunavut Impact Review Board for screening and assessment.

But the QIA, backed by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., has argued that the best solution is an amendment to the land use plan.

“QIA is disappointed that the minister has not allowed for an amendment process as the most appropriate way forward to ensure optimal participation in the [Baffinland] proposal with significant impact to the people of Pond Inlet,” the QIA said in a July 15 release.

Under the new scheme, filed in November 2014, Baffinland would increase iron ore production from an annual maximum of 4.2 million metric tons of iron ore to an annual maximum of 12 million metric tons.

And that would mean an expansion of their shipping season from ice-free months only — roughly June to October — to a 10-month period stretching between June and March each year, including the November to March period when ice forms on Eclipse Sound.

Eclipse Sound falls within the proposed boundary of the Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area, which has yet to be created.

“It’s a terrible precedent to throw out land use planning when it’s not convenient,” said Chris Debicki of Oceans North, an environmental lobby group that has been vocal in its opposition to Baffinland’s request for exemption.

“We’re dubious that this project wouldn’t succeed by respecting the land use plan,” he added.

“And we’ve always believed that this mine can operate alongside a marine conservation area. But it’s not just about iron mining, but the potential increase in shipping through the region.”

Oceans North called on Nunavut MP and federal environment minister Leona Aglukkaq to weigh in, to assure residents of North Baffin region that they can enjoy both environmental protection and the benefits of economic development.

The Nunavut Planning Commission had little public reaction to Valcourt’s exemption letter this week.

“From our perspective, once we gave our decision, our role was done,” said NPC chair Hunter Tootoo.

“We outlined the different options, and they chose to go that route.”

In his July 13 letter, Valcourt defended his decision by arguing that exempting the project from the land use plan is in line with the intent of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

“The ability to exempt a project proposal from the requirement that it conform to the applicable land use plan is an important part of the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement’s integrated system of resource management,” he wrote.

The minister is allowed to grant the exemption request as long as his department makes written reasons available to the Nunavut Planning Commission and to the public.

As another potential option, Baffinland could have asked the planning commission for an amendment to the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan.

But Valcourt said that process would be too unwieldy and might raise broader issues not related to Baffinland’s specific proposal.

He also said the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan is likely to be soon replaced by the NPC’s Nunavut-wide land use plan, which is entering its final stages.

Valcourt said the Hamlet of Pond Inlet does not support the idea of a land use plan amendment and wants Baffinland’s proposal to go directly to the impact review board.

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