'We now have more people in Mary River and Milne Inlet than in Grise Fiord'

Mine activity swells Mary River population


Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.'s Mary River project near Pond Inlet employed 200 people this summer – making the site more populated than some Nunavut communities.

"We now have more people in Mary River and Milne Inlet than in Grise Fiord," President Gordon McCreary said on Friday, Aug. 24.

Company spending also shot up this year on the site, from $26.5 million last year to more than $90 million this year, in preparation for plans to ship out 250,000 tonnes of iron ore next summer from a temporary dock built at Milne Inlet, which is to be connected to the mine site by a 100-km road.

The Mary River deposit south of Pond Inlet is believed to hold tens of millions of tonnes of high-grade iron ore, worth more than $6 billion. That's enough ore to sustain an open-pit mine for at least 34 years. And that's just the first phase of the company's plans to mine the area.

"The most important word of our project… is that it's multi-generational," said McCreary. "It's going to be around a long time."

The company plans to ship next summer's bulk sample to steel mills in Europe to demonstrate the commercial viability of the mine.

If the mine moves forward as the company plans, one day a train could be shuttling iron ore from an open-pit mine to a nearby deep-water port at Steensby Inlet, 145 km south of the mine. The project, estimated to cost $1.5 billion to start up, would likely provide hundreds of jobs to residents of the Baffin region.

The company originally envisioned the mine operating by 2011, but McCreary said the company now believes announcing a start-up date would be premature, given how easily projects become delayed in the Arctic.

Case in point: this month some sealift supplies, such as 18 million litres of diesel fuel, was nearly compromised by recent turmoil on the financial markets provoked by the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, which seized up much of the company's $45.9 million in cash and investments.

But on Thursday, Aug. 23 the Bank of Nova Scotia provided the company with $21 million in secured credit, allowing them to pay for a second boat of supplies that shipped out last week.

Had the supplies been held up, McCreary said an entire year's work could have been lost.

Drills, loaders and trucks have already been shipped up this summer, along with fuel to power equipment and generators at the site, which the company plans to have occupied through the winter while they begin excavating iron ore.

In fact, from now on, McCreary said "my expectation is there will always be someone at Mary River."

"It's getting bigger and bigger and bigger."

Shortly after work began this April, the company began test drilling at the mine and port sites, to ensure the foundation of buildings at the mine site and the port would be structurally sound.

Such work is important, McCreary said, in order to avoid the fate of "your arena in Iqaluit" – a reference to the Arctic Winter Games arena, which has been slowly sinking into the tundra for years. "That's the reason you do geotechnical drilling."

The company currently has about 135 employees at the Mary River site, and 65 employees at the nearby Milne Inlet port site.

McCreary said "a very significant number" of these employees are residents of Pond Inlet and other Nunavut communities.

Talks between the company and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association to negotiation an Inuit impact and benefits agreement are to resume this fall, after being "on hiatus" during the summer, McCreary said.

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