Nunavut stakeholders seek clarity in Baffinland mine review process
“The best way to consider all the issues is to move to the environmental hearings”
The hamlet of Pond Inlet wants to know where Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada sits on Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s proposed plans for its Mary River iron mine.
In a letter written to Indigenous and Northern Affairs minister Carolyn Bennett last month, Pond Inlet’s Mayor Charlie Inuarak wrote to inquire if, under a new Liberal government, the department’s exemption of the project from Nunavut’s land use plan still applies.
Baffinland’s Phase 2 proposes the expansion of iron ore production and shipping at the Mary River mine to nearly triple its output.
But in April 2015, the Nunavut Planning Commission decided the amended project proposal didn’t conform to the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan.
On a request from Baffinland, then-INAC minister Bernard Valcourt agreed last summer to exempt the proposal from the land use planning process.
The Hamlet of Pond Inlet supported the exemption then, and Inuarak reiterated the council’s support in a May 20 letter to Minister Carolyn Bennett.
“It has been almost a year since our last letter to your ministry and we want to see the NIRB phase continue,” Inuarak wrote.
“With that in mind we hope that you will confirm to the Nunavut Impact Review Board that the ministerial exemption continues to apply to Baffinland’s phase 2 project.”
The mining company is currently hosting community consultations in Pond Inlet and plans to submit its final Draft Environmental Impact Statement to the NIRB this fall.
Pond Inlet’s hamlet council continues to support the project moving to the environmental assessment phase under NIRB, the community’s mayor said.
“Our community will be for more affected by Phase 2 than any other and we continue to have many questions about the project and how our concerns will be addressed,” Inuarak said.
“We also strongly feel that the best way to consider all the issues is to move to the environmental hearings process, particularly in our community.”
The Mary River site, which is said to contain one of the richest deposits of iron ore in the world, was discovered decades ago but the cost of extracting that ore, the massive and complex infrastructure investment required and the fluctuating price of global iron ore have all conspired, at one time or another, to keep most of that ore in the ground.
Baffinland shipped its first load of iron ore from Mary River through Milne Inlet in August 2015.
But global prices of iron ore have plummeted since the NIRB first granted the company its Mary River project certificate in 2012, prompting the company to revise its operations.
In late 2014, Baffinland proposed significant changes to its project certificate, including:
• more than tripling truckloads of iron ore along the tote road to the Milne Inlet port;
• nearly tripling the output of iron ore from Milne Inlet, from 4.2 million tonnes to 12 million tonnes per year;
• increasing the shipping season from three or four months a year to ten months a year;
• building a second dock at Milne Inlet and a nearby tank farm capable of holding 140-million litres of fuel; and,
• plans to reconsider an earlier design option to connect mining operations and Milne Inlet by a railway.
That last, and most recent, modification has muddied the review process for stakeholders even more.
This past spring, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association wrote to the NIRB for clarification, wanting to know if the modified project proposal should now undergo as assessment via the Nunavut Project Planning and Assessment Act, known as NUPPAA.
The NUPPAA is law, introduced in July 2015, which is meant to offer clearer guidelines to regulatory bodies dealing with project modifications.
The QIA pointed out that the NUPPAA contains “prescriptive language of what constitutes an assessment, namely, a review by the Nunavut Planning Commission for conformity of any applicable land use plan, followed by screening and review by NIRB.”
But Baffinland responded to that letter by noting it “strongly objects to QIA’s suggestions that the [current] NIRB process should terminate.”
At this point, the NIRB has determined the proposed changes warrant a full public review, requiring Baffinland to submit a new Environmental Impact Statement.
With Baffinland aiming to submit its assessment in September, the review board won’t likely make a decision on the company’s proposed Phase 2 project until the spring of 2017, at the earliest.
That’s because after Baffinland makes its submission, the NIRB has to conduct community consultations and a technical review.