Inuit org helps Baffinland overturn Nunavut review board’s advice
QIA fears Mary River won’t be viable without production increase, says letter
After hearing pleas from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq, federal cabinet ministers have rejected advice from the Nunavut Impact Review Board and said yes—until the end of next year—to an iron ore production increase request from Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.
Northern Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, along with three other federal cabinet ministers, delivered the federal government’s decision to the review board in a letter received on Sept. 30.
“The Qikiqtani Inuit Association explained that they strongly support the production increase proposal as a method of supporting Inuit aspirations in the region,” the letter said.
In it, LeBlanc and Bennett, who each signed the letter, also said the QIA fears for the economic viability of the Mary River project.
“We are also concerned about the long-term viability of the Mary River mine, and cognizant of QIA’s concern that the economic viability of the project depends on the Production Increase Proposal,” their letter said.
In annual socio-economic reports, Baffinland has said it pays no income tax, because Mary River has yet to make a profit.
In its production increase request, Baffinland said it wants permission to produce and ship up to six million tonnes of iron ore per year from Mary River, up from the current legal limit of 4.2 million tonnes per year.
Baffinland made the request in December 2017. It also asked regulators for permission to build a new 380-person accommodation camp and 15-million-litre tank farm at Milne Inlet.
In its request, Baffinland said that without the production increase, it will be forced to close the mine for part of each year—because it is now able to reach the current 4.2-million-tonne limit in less than 12 months.
After consulting stakeholders and holding an information meeting in Pond Inlet this past July, the review board recommended the federal government say yes to the proposed new camp and tank farm.
But they recommended Ottawa say no to the proposed production increase.
That’s because Baffinland did not show how it would soften the impact of additional dust along the Milne Inlet tote road and the impact of additional marine shipping out of the Milne Inlet port, the review board said last August.
The federal ministers, however, said QIA and Baffinland are now working together on a plan to mitigate the environmental impacts of a production increase.
“The QIA is deeply involved in the project in many ways, including financially, and therefore very well informed about the economics of the project, and the consequential risks to the project,” the ministers said.
They also point out that the Nunavut premier, in a separate communication, told them he’s worried about the “disruption to employment” that would occur if Baffinland were to halt production after reaching the current 4.2-million-tonne limit. Savikataaq also asked for a “swift decision.”
So for those and other reasons, the federal ministers ordered that Baffinland be allowed to haul and ship up to six million tonnes of iron ore per year—but only for 2018 and 2019.
After Dec. 31, 2019, the limit would revert to 4.2 million tonnes, unless the company’s project certificate is amended once again.
“Allowing the production increase will allow the Inuit of the region the opportunity to maintain and more fully realize the economic and other benefits of the mine and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association’s agreements with Baffinland,” the ministers said.
The federal ministers also said the review board should hold a marine monitoring and mitigation workshop in Pond Inlet each year.
Meanwhile, the review board has just begun to look at a separate and much bigger request from Baffinland, for the construction of a railway between Mary River and Milne Inlet, with a production increase of up to 12 million tonnes a year.
On that one, Baffinland has filed an environmental impact statement, but the review board says it wants more information from the company before it can start work on an assessment.
Under the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act, Ottawa has 90 days to respond to the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s recommendations. This time, they responded in about 30 days.
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