Nunavut Planning Commission gets started on Mary River expansion
After nearly three years, Baffinland’s Phase 2 scheme starts moving through the Nunavut regulatory system
Nearly three years after Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. first proposed its Phase 2 expansion plan for the Mary River iron mine, an updated version of the project will finally start moving through Nunavut’s regulatory system.
And more than two years after Bernard Valcourt, then the Conservative minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, exempted the first version of the scheme from the scrutiny of the Nunavut Planning Commission, the NPC will get to look at it after all.
The planning commission, in a public notice issued Aug. 31, now seeks comment from governments, organizations and individuals on an application from Baffinland to change the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan to allow for a 110-kilometre railway between Mary River and Milne Inlet, and for winter sealifts during the months of December, January and February.
(The North Baffin plan is still in legal effect because the planning commission’s Nunavut-wide draft land use plan has yet to be approved.)
Interested parties and persons must submit comments before a deadline of 12 noon eastern time, Oct. 2. To respond to comments, Baffinland has a deadline of 9 a.m. eastern time, Oct. 5.
And in those comments, the planning commission wants to know who is concerned about the plan, who supports it and who wants an “in-person public hearing.” (See document embedded below.)
In this latest version of the company’s Phase 2 expansion plan, described in an update in November 2016, Baffinland has backed away from the idea of shipping ore to market through the ice-covered waters of Milne Inlet and Eclipse Sound for 10 months of the year.
They’ve also dropped a complex trans-shipping proposal where ore would be transferred from smaller to larger vessels out at sea.
Instead, they now want permission to ship ore to market for only six months each year, between July 1 and Dec. 31, during the open water season.
But they want permission to bring in sealift resupply vessels, if necessary, in December, January and February.
And they still want permission to increase iron ore production from 4.2 million tonnes per year to 12 million tonnes per year, to be shipped to an expanded port at Milne Inlet via rail, using a fleet of five locomotives and 176 rail cars.
This increase in production, Baffinland says, is essential for making the project financially viable.
“Baffinland believes strongly that to insulate the Project from extended low price environments and to generate necessary returns to justify continued investments, the Project needs to expand further to a level of 12 Mtpa with a lower cost rail transport to port,” the company said in its update.
Baffinland submitted the first version of its Phase 2 proposal in October 2014, but the Nunavut Impact Review Board has yet to do the environmental assessment that’s required before government regulators, such as Transport Canada, can issue licences and permits for the railway and expanded shipping plan.
That’s because the NIRB had to wait for the resolution of a convoluted dispute over whether the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan should be amended to accommodate the scheme and whether Valcourt’s rejection of the planning commission’s 2015 ruling still stands.
The NPC said no to the first version of Baffinland’s Phase 2 expansion plan in April 2015, but also said the company could apply for an amendment to the North Baffin land use plan.
Instead, relying on a provision in the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, Baffinland appealed to Valcourt, who granted an exemption from the land use plan in July 2015, effectively overturning the NPC’s decision.
But Baffinland’s proposal changed once again, to include a railroad from Mary River to Milne Inlet.
After that, groups like the Qikiqtani Inuit Association said such a significant change in proposed land use likely meant the planning commission should be allowed to take another look at the project.
The NIRB then approached Carolyn Bennett, who replaced Valcourt as INAC minister in late 2015, to ask her if Valcourt’s exemption still applied.
Bennett replied by telling NIRB to make the decision on their own.
And in response, the NIRB decided in December 2016 to send the updated version of the Phase 2 proposal back to the planning commission.