Baffinland asks Nunavut board to postpone final public hearing on Mary River expansion
Iron mine operator wants more time to respond to concerns from QIA, communities
Saying they want more time to provide more information to north Baffin communities and to the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. is asking the Nunavut Impact Review Board to postpone a final public hearing on its railway-based expansion until November 2019.
Under Nunavut’s regulatory system, a final public hearing is one of the last remaining steps before the NIRB can send its recommendations for a project to the federal government.
Earlier this year, the review board was hoping to split the final public hearing on the Mary River expansion between two locations: Pond Inlet from Sept. 23 to Sept. 27 and Iqaluit from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4.
But now, Baffinland is proposing that the review board postpone that hearing to a six-day period between Nov. 4 and Nov. 9, and hold that hearing in Pond Inlet only.
They also said that because of limited accommodations in Pond Inlet, participants at that final hearing could stay at the Mary River site and be ferried back and forth from Pond Inlet for the hearing.
Baffinland said they need the postponement because they want more time to respond to concerns raised by representatives from the five affected north Baffin communities and by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association.
Those concerns arose before and during a recent set of technical meetings in Iqaluit, held between June 17 and June 19, and also during a recent tour of the five north Baffin communities.
During the period that followed those Iqaluit technical meetings, company staff held meetings with QIA, the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization, the Hamlet of Pond Inlet, the Igloolik Phase 2 Working Group, and representatives from hamlets and hunter and trapper organizations in all five north Baffin communities.
“Through these meetings we have heard that some interveners have continued to express concerns that a thoughtful and fulsome review of the proposal may not be possible by the current proposed public hearing dates,” Baffinland said in a letter.
They also said they want more time to submit “additional documentation” that incorporates Inuit perspectives.
At those technical meetings in Iqaluit, Inuit representatives slammed Baffinland for not sufficiently incorporating Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit into its reports on the potential impacts of their railway-based expansion plan.
That included a report on whether the company’s proposed railway from Mary River to Milne Inlet, and the high embankment that it would require, will prevent caribou from crossing from one side to the other.
Other delegates questioned Baffinland’s submissions on how increased shipping out of Milne Inlet would affect marine mammals like narwhal.
So a postponement would give the company time to do more communication with stakeholders or what they call “enhanced engagement with community representatives and the QIA.”
Postponing the final public hearing until November would still give the NIRB enough time to submit its “reconsideration report” to the federal government by Dec. 31, 2019.
(It’s formally called “reconsideration” because the current process involves a reconsideration of the mine’s existing project certificate.)
Under Baffinland’s proposed new schedule, Baffinland’s final report to federal ministers could be submitted around Dec. 16, and the minister’s decision could take up to 90 days.
That would push final approval of a project certificate to March or April of 2020.
Meanwhile, Baffinland hopes that Nunavut Water Board hearing can be held in February 2020 on the project’s water licence.
In its phase two proposal, Baffinland wants to build a 110-kilometre railway between Milne Inlet and Mary River, double its ore production to 12 million tonnes a year and extend the length of its shipping season to July 1—Nov. 15 to accommodate about 175 transits of big ore-carrying ships.
The railway to the north of Mary River would likely use a fleet of five locomotives and 200 cars. Building it would require multiple quarries and at least 12.7 million cubic metres of rock-fill.
The company already has a project certificate, received in 2012, allowing a railway running south to a port at Steensby Inlet.
That means that in time, Baffinland’s iron ore production from Mary River could one day reach 30 million tonnes a year.