Nunavut commission to Baffinland: we want to help, but we’re broke

Iron firm seeks land use amendment to allow 10-month shipping at Mary River


Baffinland Iron Mines' port at Milne Inlet, built to service the Mary River iron mine about 100 km inland and south of Pond Inlet. (PHOTO COURTESY OF BAFFINLAND)

Baffinland Iron Mines’ port at Milne Inlet, built to service the Mary River iron mine about 100 km inland and south of Pond Inlet. (PHOTO COURTESY OF BAFFINLAND)

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. wants to amend a land use plan so it can break winter ice and ship ore from its north Baffin port at Milne Inlet to points across the Atlantic Ocean for up to 10 months each year.

The Nunavut Planning Commission, which could consider such an amendment, says it really wants to help the owners of the Mary River mine.

But right now, it can’t afford to pay for what could be a comprehensive technical and public process, because Ottawa doesn’t give them enough money.

“The Commission is currently engaged in funding discussions with the federal government to ensure the Commission has sufficient resources to deal with its growing workload efficiently and effectively,” says a May 5 letter to Eric Madsen, a Baffinland vice president, from NPC chair Hunter Tootoo.

Once the NPC figures out what would be involved in amending the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan — a plan they’ve already amended once to suit the Mary River iron mine south of Pond Inlet — and after funding talks with Ottawa are completed, “we will be in a better position to respond,” said the NPC’s letter.

All this stems from the NPC’s decision on April 8 to deny the mining company a positive land use conformity designation for changes they wanted to make to their mining operation.

Baffinland, which had permission to ship iron ore annually from Milne Inlet during the ice free season, requested further permission to increase production from a maximum of 4.2 tonnes million per year to 12 million tonnes per year and allow shipping for up to 10 months.

Such marine activity would have required the company to break sea ice through Milne Inlet and through Eclipse Sound, the body of water that separates Pond Inlet from Bylot Island and Sirmilik National Park.

For the first time since the body was created out of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, the NPC said no.

“Ice is an essential part of life in the North. For people, for polar bears, for seals and other animals in the North, ice is a bridge — both metaphorically to the past and present Inuit values and activities, also actually as a fact,” said the NPC’s April 8 decision.

Shortly after that, Baffinland staff met with Sharon Ehaloak, the NPC’s executive director in Cambridge Bay, to figure out a way forward, according to Baffinland’s correspondence.

The April 28 letter from Madsen to Tootoo states publicly that Baffinland’s desire is to amend the land use plan to make their increased shipping proposal compliant and then asks a lot of questions about process and timelines.

Baffinland even suggests possible wording for a land use amendment which includes the statement: “The shipping season on the marine corridor may include shipping through open water and shipping through ice (excluding the months of April and May).”

The mining company also wants some assurances from the NPC.

“If Baffinland proceeded with an amendment application, we would want to ensure that the requested amendment would enable the NPC to issue a positive conformity statement in relation to the Phase 2 proposal,” Madsen writes to the NPC.

But Tootoo, in response, effectively tells Baffinland to get in line.

Tootoo writes that the NPC is already dealing with numerous other land use conformity applications that it has already budgeted for.

And unless the commission gets more money up front from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to deal with this specific file, Baffinland’s amendment request might not get onto the NPC’s to-do list until the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

The NPC’s money talks with Ottawa likely include negotiations on the commission’s main preoccupation right now: the draft Nunavut Land Use Plan.

That’s a document that would explain, in detail, where in Nunavut development could take place, where it would be prohibited and under what terms and conditions.

The NPC was in the home stretch towards finalizing that plan after years of extensive consultations and technical submissions when Ottawa put the brakes on the process by refusing to pay the bill for final hearings.

Legal proceedings in federal court, to force Ottawa to pay, have been suspended pending the current negotiations.

And if recent news out of the NPC is any indication, those negotiations are going well.

The planning commission has scheduled a draft Nunavut Land Use Plan technical briefing for June 23 to June 26 at the Cadet Hall in Iqaluit and a pre-hearing conference for July 14 to July 16.

Those are the kinds of meetings that would take place in advance of a final hearing.

Share This Story

(0) Comments