Baffinland CEO kicks off hearing on mine expansion with calls for collaboration

North Baffin hamlets and hunting organizations remain opposed to Mary River’s proposed phase two

Baffinland CEO Brian Penney said at the final hearing for the Mary River iron mine’s proposed expansion that he was willing to work with Inuit to overcome disagreements about the project. (Screen shot)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. CEO Brian Penney struck a hopeful tone on the opening day of the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s final hearing on his company’s proposed mine expansion, saying that many concerns about the project have been addressed.

He also offered a warning: the Mary River iron mine can’t continue operating unless it’s allowed to grow.

“The [Mary River] project has not been financially sustainable, regardless of ore price,” Penney said Monday as the hearing got underway in Pond Inlet though its proceedings were streamed online.

The nine-member Nunavut Impact Review Board assesses the environmental and socio-economic impacts of development projects and advises the federal and territorial governments on whether they should go ahead.

For the Mary River mine to turn a profit, Penney said, Baffinland needs to reduce transportation costs.

The proposed 110-kilometre railway between Mary River and Milne Inlet, among other additions, would help accomplish that, he said.

Since the hearing was put on hold in November 2019, Baffinland has tried to address concerns about the environmental and cultural impact of its phase two plans.

These attempts included an Inuit stewardship plan, to allow Inuit to “report on social, environmental, and cultural impacts” of the phase two proposal, which will be run by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and paid for by Baffinland.

As well, the Inuit Certainty Agreement, a multimillion-dollar agreement between the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Baffinland, was signed in July 2020 and outlines community benefits, Inuit participation in the project and incentives for affected communities.

But it looks like these inducements may not be enough.

P.J. Akeeagok, president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, said in his opening remarks that organizations involved are unsatisfied with the specifics of the project, including how and in what quantities ore will be shipped.

“Baffinland, I ask you to be adaptive, I ask you to challenge the depth and the form of your commitments to Inuit,” Akeeagok said. “Heed the advice you have been given about the environment you are seeking to operate among [and] within; acknowledge your place as settlers within an Inuit homeland. Your project grows out of Inuit lands and resources.”

On Sunday, a statement issued by the hunter and trapper organizations and hamlets from North Baffin called the project’s adaptive management “ineffective and dysfunctional.”

“The existing Mary River mine and proposed expansion have caused serious concern among North Baffin communities,” the statement reads. “While there are some benefits, we are not convinced the benefits outweigh the adverse impacts.”

Penney, prior to the lunch break, said he is willing to work with Inuit to complete the deal.

“We are very proud of the work our team has done over the past year to improve the project, expand the benefits, and to support and enhance the framework for project planning, monitoring and adaptive management to achieve environmental and social sustainability,” Penney said.

The final hearing will continue until Feb 6. Afterwards, the review board will send a report to federal Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal recommending whether the project should go ahead.

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(16) Comments:

  1. Posted by Truestory on

    Some Inuit workers’ at B.I.M., actually improved their standard of living. Some bought new machines to go out on the land, bought vehicles, then food on the table, bill’s almost paid, warm winter clothing, better than collecting “Income Support”…….Hope the expansion goes ahead.

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  2. Posted by Uo there on

    Communities have been asking for collaboration for years..up until now it’s only been between QIA and BIM…

  3. Posted by John on

    This expansion will help BIM become profitable business and reduce environmental footprint, It’s fantastic opportunity for the communities in Baffin Island and for Canada during these depressing times

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    • Posted by hmm on

      How many new jobs will this expansion create? What are the great opportunities?

      What a lot of people don’t realize is that this expansion will actually _decrease_ employment.

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      • Posted by John on

        No specific number, but hundreds of jobs will be created for the construction phase and it will decrease once the train is operating, which will help Baffinland become profitable and focus on increasing Inuit training and employment, If Steensby gets build , it will be thousands of jobs created too. Nunavut now has the best mining growth in Canada

      • Posted by Joe Bloggsy on

        I thought part of what Pond Inlet was asking for was increased employment, really just meeting the target they promised? How would that result in less employment? Interested to hear how I’m wrong but seems kind of illogical.

        • Posted by hmm on

          Hey Joe,

          Once the railroad is built they will need fewer workers to move the ore, so there will be less jobs overall. That’s part of why Pond Inlet’s proposal is so important, it will make sure Inuit jobs don’t decrease when the railway is in.

        • Posted by all in on

          now they do 280 trucks of ore every day. lots of driveers. they want to do 8 trains a day. no drivers, only train engineers that are southern wrokers. good luck with more jobs.

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    • Posted by $$$$$$$$$$$$ on

      I guess it depends on how you want to measure economic gains/success and if you include hunting and access to healthy country food in the equation. Baffinland already has a dismal track record for Inuit employment. The mine has maybe done some good for some individuals, or even communities, but it has also had some negative social and economic impacts. Why should we think it will be any different or better in the future? The intensification of mining might increase benefits to communities, but is just as likely to intensify any losses/costs. in which case, the gains might not even be worth it anymore. The mine will close some day. It has a definite lifespan that hinges on unpredictable global markets. Like Nanisivik, the mine will close when the prices drop or the iron ore runs out. The qallunaat who work for them will move elsewhere to other mines, the ones at the table negotiating now will keep their jobs, get promoted, continue to get paid. The Inuit who work at Baffinland will either have to move elsewhere or find other kinds of work. The environmental impacts of the mine expansion are largely unknown.Especially unpredictable with climate change. The mine operations could even speed up changes in sea ice and thawing permafrost, we just don’t know. And won’t, until it happens. Baffinland commitments to monitoring environmental impacts risks only doing something about things once it’s too late. We also do not know what Baffinland will do if there are negative impacts on marine and terrestrial life. It is a big experiment in these ways. The project proposed is huge – unprecedented. It makes sense to be cautious about committing your future to an industry that is not sustainable or longterm. Especially if doing so might jeopardize your other resources that are renewable (country food) and are actually yours and not dependent upon or owned/sold by a foreign company and markets. Protecting the economic activity of hunting and its way of life and the marine and terrestrial life and resources it depends upon, is also a great economic opportunity. One not to be missed. Or ever lost.

  4. Posted by Truestory on

    When the locomotive is up and running, B.I.M. will train inuit engineers. Other trades will also become available. And 280 diesel trucks emitting more pollutants than a train. Better a train than 280 pollutants. And the drivers will have an option to learn a new trade or work up there if they choose.

    • Posted by Joe Bloggsy on

      That’s a good point about the number of trains as opposed to the number of trucks, must be better though not great for the environment.

  5. Posted by C’mon, really. on

    Some of the comments are so uneducated, like all in, comments like yours embarrass us as Inuit. This is Canada and it’s time to grow.

    • Posted by Truestory on

      Enlighten us with all your wisdom please. Who knows, we MIGHT learn sumthin’.

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