Nunavut review board says no to Mary River ore production increase
Northern affairs minister may accept, reject or change NIRB's advice
Northern Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc should reject a request from Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. to increase the annual volume of iron ore the company is allowed to haul from 4.2 million metric tonnes to six million metric tonnes per year, the Nunavut Impact Review Board recommended this past Friday, Aug. 31, just prior to the start of the Labour Day weekend.
That’s because Baffinland did not show how it would reduce the harmful effects of increased marine shipping and increased haul-truck traffic along the tote road between its Mary River mine and its port at Milne Inlet, the board said in a report.
At the same time, the review board did recommend that Baffinland be allowed to build a new 380-person accommodation camp at Milne Inlet and a 15-million-litre diesel fuel-tank farm in the same area.
In a statement issued on Sept. 3, Baffinland said it welcomes the NIRB recommendations that would allow it to build the new infrastructure.
“The increased fuel on site and added accommodations at Milne Inlet will allow Baffinland to advance significant improvements at the Mary River mine,” the statement said.
But on the recommendation denying Baffinland’s request for a hike in production volumes, the company said it is now studying that part of the decision.
“We thank the NIRB for their comments in the report related to information gaps and will consider and respond expeditiously after consulting with all stakeholders,” the company said.
It’s now up to LeBlanc to decide within 90 days, under rules set out within the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act, whether to accept, reject or change NIRB’s recommendation.
That NIRB recommendation is in response to a production increase proposal that Baffinland filed with regulators in December 2017.
It is separate from, and not directly connected to, Baffinland’s big railway-based expansion plan, called “Phase 2.” The company has filed an environmental impact statement for that proposal, which the review board has only just begun to look at.
On the smaller production increase proposal, the review board decided not to hold a full-blown public hearing, but did hold a community information session in Pond Inlet this past July, the NIRB report said.
At that session, the board appears to have fielded multiple complaints from Pond Inlet residents who alleged the community has seen too few benefits and too much environmental damage since the iron mine began operating.
“Baffinland has had an impact on the environment. They have ruined a lot of land and fishing areas,” one unnamed Pond Inlet resident is quoted as saying in the NIRB report.
“Many, many southerners working, and many Inuit apply for jobs and never get a response,” another resident said.
And government interveners, such as the Government of Nunavut and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said Baffinland provided insufficient information on how it would mitigate the impacts of increased dust and increased ship traffic.
In its proposal, the company has asked for two terms of its project certificate to be changed: one limiting the amount of ore that can be trucked along the road and the other limiting the amount that can be shipped from Milne Inlet.
Baffinland said it needs permission to increase the permitted annual volume from 4.2 million metric tonnes to six million metric tonnes to avoid shutting the mine down after they reach the 4.2-million-tonne limit.
And the company has also said in the past that it needs to produce iron at greater volumes to make the mine viable. Right now, the Mary River mine does not turn a profit.
But the review board refused to recommend that those two terms be changed.
“The board’s determination recognizes the comments of interveners, community members and the results of the NIRB’s monitoring of the Mary River project under Project Certificate No. 005, all identifying concerns about the adequacy of impact predictions and uncertainty about the effectiveness of the mitigation measures proposed by Baffinland to address the potential for adverse effects associated with the proposed increase in road traffic and marine vessel traffic,” the NIRB said in a news release.
The review board also said this decision will not affect its environmental and socio-economic assessment of Baffinland’s big railway proposal, which is now underway. The company says that if it receives the required permits in 2019, the railway could be up and running by 2020 or early 2021.