Baffinland expansion meetings cancelled again
Second attempt to hold meetings via teleconference rejected by intervenors
The Nunavut Impact Review Board decided on Friday, April 24, that it would not hold technical meetings via teleconference starting this week.
The technical meetings were proposed by Baffinland Iron Mines to make up for ones scheduled to be held in Iqaluit in March that were cancelled on March 12, due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Along with the technical meetings, community roundtables and a pre-hearing conference were cancelled at that time.
Before cancelling these events, the NIRB attempted to re-format them as virtual meetings to be held via teleconference.
However, this decision provoked criticism from intervenors who said they weren’t involved in the decision to re-format the meetings, and that it wouldn’t be logistically possible for intervenors in small, remote communities to participate effectively in virtual meetings.
The NIRB responded in a letter posted to the board’s registry on March 17, putting the meetings on hold, and noting that territory-wide closures of offices, schools and daycares “could impact the ability of parties to participate fully in scheduled teleconferences.”
“Once these circumstances change or organizations have had sufficient time to adjust their operations to current conditions, the Board will revisit its guidance regarding next steps,” it wrote in the letter.
On April 13 Baffinland Iron Mines sent out a letter, saying that it was imperative to keep moving forward on the assessment of its proposed stage two expansion, which would include the meetings and hearings that had been scheduled to take place in March.
“As four weeks have since elapsed since the meetings and organizations have had some time to adjust to working remotely and adjusting their operations, Baffinland is writing to request that the NIRB issue further direction,” the letter said.
Baffinland requested that the meetings be complete by April 30. The mining company argued in its letter that technical meetings could be held by teleconference, and that according to the NIRB’s rules, community roundtables and a pre-conference hearing weren’t necessary.
The NIRB sent out a letter the following day to intervenors in the mine’s proposed expansion, asking them to submit input on holding the technical meetings via teleconference.
The board said in its letter that it wasn’t realistic to think the meetings could be wrapped up by the end of April.
It then scheduled virtual technical meetings to be held over the phone from April 28 to May 8.
The NIRB also said in that letter that it was assessing alternatives to the community roundtable and pre-conference hearing.
It wrote that after the technical meetings were complete, it would provide further guidance on how the community roundtable and pre-conference hearing would be modified to reflect the reality of the constraints caused by the pandemic.
The NIRB then sent out a letter on Friday, April 24, saying that after reading submissions from 15 intervenors, including Baffinland, it decided to cancel the technical meetings that it had just scheduled.
“With significant opposition and limits on the participation of all parties, the Board has concluded that these meetings cannot proceed as proposed,” the NIRB wrote in its letter.
The NIRB wrote that when travel restrictions are lifted, and when it’s possible for Nunavummiut to return to work and have public gatherings, it will decide when and how to allow the assessment of Baffinland’s proposed expansion go ahead.
Before it decides what the continued assessment will look like, “the Board will solicit comment from prospective participants to ensure their views are fully considered before charting a path forward for this assessment,” according to the letter.