Nunavut Inuit call for public hearing on iron mine expansion
QIA, Hamlet of Pond Inlet still worried about winter ice-breaking, railway
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association and the Hamlet of Pond Inlet have called on the Nunavut Planning Commission to hold a single in-person public hearing in the North Baffin community before the commission considers a land use plan amendment that would allow a new railway and winter shipping route to service the Mary River mine.
The call comes by way of public submissions made to the NPC after Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. submitted a proposed amendment to the land use plan, Aug. 31, for the second phase of its iron ore project.
The amendment asks to construct a 110-km railway along the route of the existing tote road between the mine and the Milne Inlet port and to allow winter icebreaking in Milne Inlet and Eclipse Sound so freight can be shipped in December, January and February.
It’s not the first time the mine’s expansion plans have been put before the planning commission.
In 2015, the NPC said the mine’s second phase plans did not conform with the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan.
But the scope of the project has changed since then and a revised version of the Phase 2 proposal is back before the planning commission.
The QIA, in a submission said the commission can’t responsibly make amendments without first consulting with the community.
“Shipping through ice is not akin to shipping in open water. Treating these activities as one and the same is inappropriate. Development of a railway, a unique piece of infrastructure, to facilitate ore transport is not akin to a smaller scale trucking operation on a pre-existing roadway,” the seven-page Oct. 2 submission by the QIA to the NPC reads.
“From QIA’s public consultations, it is very clear that the proposed addition in the marine transportation corridor of ice breaking and the rail route have raised serious concerns.”
Pond Inlet Mayor Joshua Katsak said that members of his hamlet council and residents of his community want to be heard.
“They think it will have an impact on the breeding season,” he wrote in a hamlet submission to the NPC, dated Sept. 27.
Katsak’s letter states that councillors fear that the mine’s second phase will go on without adequate consultation, and that concerns already expressed about the first phase of the project are not being addressed.
“It impacted our environment and sea,” he wrote. “Also, the Inuit employees are decreasing [at the mine]. The community has to be well respected, since there are concerns that are showing up.”
Given those concerns, “it would be inappropriate for the commissioners to make any final determinations without hearing directly from the residents of Pond Inlet,” the QIA said in its submission.
Such a hearing, it said, would not only provide commissioners with greater context and local input, but would also give community members an opportunity to understand the different roles of the Nunavut Planning Commission and the Nunavut Impact Review Board.
The NPC is the gateway through which any development project must first pass in order to proceed. A project proposal submitted to the NIRB is sent to the NPC first for a land use conformity decision.
Baffinland requested that the two review forums be kept distinct, in an Oct. 4 letter the company sent to the NPC in response to the public submissions.
Baffinland also asked that if a hearing happens, that it would be done quickly and that environmental issues are saved for discussion during a NIRB hearing.
“Many of the concerns expressed in the submissions can and should be addressed through a comprehensive environmental and socio-economic assessment conducted by the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) or a separate Land Use Plan amendment application,” Baffinland’s vice president of sustainable development Todd Burlingame wrote Oct. 4.
A submission by the federal government echoes this precaution, saying Ottawa does not feel a public hearing is required in order to get the needed public input.
“The Government of Canada agrees that a thorough public review is required for this proposed amendment, but cautions against another public hearing that may duplicate aspects of the previous North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan Amendment 2 public hearing and the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s future impact assessment functions,” read the Oct. 2 submission by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
But the QIA doesn’t want to see the issue pushed quickly past the NPC stage and onto the NIRB review.
“We need to have our concerns taken seriously,” the QIA’s director of major projects Stephen Williamson Bathory said Oct. 5, at the Inuit organization’s annual general meeting.
The QIA said any impact the project might have on the land, as well as the economic benefits it could have for Inuit, need to be more clearly communicated before an amendment is approved.
“That is an area where we are pushing Baffinland for more information,” Williamson Bathory said. “We want to go through that balancing act.”
The Mary River mine is currently operating under its early revenue phase, within which the company is allowed to ship up to about 3.5 million tonnes of ore annually from the mine through a port at Milne Inlet.
The Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization, the Pond Inlet Community Land and Resource Committee, the Government of Nunavut and WWF-Canada also submitted letters to the NPC.