Nunavut review board sends Mary River scheme back to the NPC
NIRB rules Baffinland’s Phase 2 expansion scheme has changed “significantly”
After bouncing around the Nunavut regulatory system like a pinball for nearly two years, the ever-changing Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. Phase 2 expansion plan for the Mary River iron mine has landed where it started: at the Nunavut Planning Commission.
That proposal, first submitted to regulators and stakeholders on Oct. 29, 2014, has changed so much it must get another land use conformity decision from the Nunavut Planning Commission, the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s chairperson Elizabeth Copland, said Dec. 19 in a letter to Baffinland.
That’s because the addition of a 110-kilometre railway heading north from Mary River to Milne Inlet, with bridges, sidings, multiple rail cars and locomotives, as well as a railway embankment, represents a significant change from the first version of the Phase 2 expansion plan, the NIRB said.
The revised scheme also involves more infrastructure at Milne Inlet, including a railway car unloading system, a rail yard and a railway maintenance facility, and more infrastructure at the mine site.
All that is intended to facilitate the shipment of about 12 million tonnes of ore per year from Milne Inlet, via a shorter shipping season than first proposed, so that through the ice shipping is mostly avoided.
In Nunavut’s regulatory system, all development proposals must first go to the NPC, to determine if the project conforms to land use plans.
The first time around, the NPC looked at the Phase 2 scheme for five months and then on April 8, 2015, rejected it, saying the proposal requires an amendment to the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan.
After Baffinland applied for an exemption from the land use plan, Bernard Valcourt, then the Indigenous and Northern Affairs minister, granted the exemption on July 23, 2015.
Once the proposal ended up in front of the NIRB, Baffinland changed it earlier this year to provide for a Milne Inlet railway, and submitted its final update, with more details, less than three weeks ago, on Nov. 30.
In the meantime, INAC Minister Carolyn Bennett told the NIRB last summer that it was up to them to decide if Valcourt’s original land use exemption still stands or if the proposal has now changed so much that it should be sent back to the NPC.
On Dec. 19, the NIRB made its decision.
“The Board finds that the construction of a new 110 km rail line not previously subject to a conformity determination by the Nunavut Planning Commission and not previously assessed by the NIRB is not a minor addition to the scope of the Phase 2 Proposal as originally received.
“Further, the Board has determined that the scale and scope of the addition to the Phase 2 Proposal and the associated revisions to existing infrastructure are significant.”
This means that the NIRB will not assess the proposal until after the NPC has done its work.
The review board said, however, that this not mean Baffin must completely restart the regulatory process for its modified Phase 2 Proposal.
“The NIRB emphasizes that it is committed to ensuring that all information received during the Board’s consideration of the original Phase 2 Proposal to date will be brought forward into any future assessment of the modified Phase 2 Proposal,” the review board said.
Just last week, the outgoing mayor of Pond Inlet, Charlie Enuarak, wrote to the NIRB to tell them his hamlet council supports the modified Phase 2 proposal and wants the review process to move ahead quickly.
But it now appears as if the NIRB won’t be able to do that until after the NPC looks at the proposal first.