Nunavut body gives go-ahead to Mary River iron mine

Early revenue phase proposal will ship ore out of Milne Inlet


This map from the project description of the

This map from the project description of the “early revenue” phase for the Mary River iron mine in north Baffin shows the infrastructure in store for Milne Inlet.

The Nunavut Impact Review Board has given Baffinland Iron Mines a thumb’s up to the company’s early revenue phase proposal, which could see up to 4.2 million tonnes of iron ore per year shipped from Milne Inlet to markets in Europe.

Under the new project certificate, Baffinland must abide by 182 detailed terms and conditions including monitoring how climate change might affect the environment and infrastructure at the site and also how the project might mitigate its own climate change impacts through reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The original Mary River project proposal, which would have seen a railway built from the mine to Steensby Inlet and for year-round shipping of an estimated 18 million tonnes of ore annually, earned its own project certificate from the NIRB in December 2012.

But a month later, Baffinland slashed the scope of the project, opting instead for a scaled-down “early revenue phase” which would focus on shipping less ore annually out of Milne Inlet instead, and only during open water season.

Because the project would see more intense use of Milne Inlet, the NIRB decided to hold a new set of consultations, which it has done over the past year, culminating in this week’s amended project certificate.

Baffinland must now procure all the necessary regulatory paperwork to proceed including water licenses, mineral leases and land use permits.

According to the new amended project certificate, the company, along with government and Inuit bodies, are obliged to monitor and report back on how the project could impact all aspects of the land, water and air within the project’s vicinity including:

• air quality;

• noise and vibration;

• use of explosives;

• water quality;

• soil, geology and permafrost;

• vegetation;

• sea and freshwater habitats;

• animals such as caribou, wolves;

• spill prevention; and,

• sea mammals and fish.

Each term and condition lists the party responsible for monitoring.

For instance, Baffinland will be responsible for determining baseline metal levels in soils around berry-producing plants and also keeping tabs on nearby vegetation eaten by foraging caribou.

But in the case of monitoring metal levels in organ tissue from caribou harvested within the mine’s vicinity, that is the responsibility of both the company and local hunters and trappers organizations.

Other parties who will be responsible for monitoring how this massive mining project will impact the surrounding environment in North Baffin include Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment Canada, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and the GN departments of health and environment.

The project certificate calls for the creation of several multi-stakeholder bodies including something called the “Terrestrial Environment Working Group (TEWG)”

Baffinland will be responsible for establishing the TEWG early on, prior to construction and ore production, so interested parties from all levels of government can provide advice “to make sure the management of negative impacts is effective and that lasting damage is prevented,” on the land, the certificate says.

The company will also have to mitigate impacts to caribou from traffic related to the mine’s operations.

For example, Baffinland will have to take steps “to prevent caribou mortality and injury as a result of train and vehicular traffic” both on the Milne Inlet tote road, other access roads and the railway which is supposed to be built from the mine to a port at Steensby Inlet.

Construction related to this revised project at Mary River is expected to last two years, according to the NIRB report, and operations are expected to continue for the duration of the mine’s life: 21 years.

According to the report, Baffinland intends to build the 100-km tote road to Milne Inlet, construction of a fixed dock, a large ore stockpile and reclaim area, 3,500 tonnes-per-hour ship loaders, a camp expansion to accommodate 60 workers and the extension and relocation of the airstrip to the west of the stock pile.

Baffinland will be obliged to provide progress on its commitments in an annual report to the NIRB. The NIRB, for it’s part, “will appoint monitoring officers as required,” to ensure the terms and conditions are being met from construction to production and eventually, mine closure and restoration.

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