Baffinland faces criticism over its Inuit consultation for proposed railway

Just one North Baffin community has expressed support for proposed 110-km railway

People pack into Iqaluit’s Cadet Hall for the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s final public hearing of Baffinland’s phase two expansion proposal on Nov. 4, 2019. (Photo by Emma Tranter)

By Emma Tranter

Questions from intervenors on day three of the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s final public hearing on Baffinland’s phase two expansion of its Mary River mine focused heavily on the company’s consultation with Inuit living in North Baffin.

As part of its expansion, Baffinland has proposed a 110-kilometre northern railway that the company says would see no more than 20 iron-ore carrying train trips per day.

But some North Baffin communities are questioning Baffinland’s consultation process on the railway.

Specifically, questions were raised by the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization about a caribou crossing workshop Baffinland held this past summer to determine possible caribou crossing areas on the proposed rail route.

As a result of this workshop, Baffinland has proposed an alternative railway route, which they call route three. Route one was eliminated as a result of opposition from hunters and trappers who participated in the workshop, Baffinland said, while route two was eliminated internally by the company.

But Amanda Hanson Main, technical advisor for the MHTO, questioned Baffinland on whether the workshop was used to identify new, alternative rail routes.

“Did they know it would be used to identify new rail routes? Were they made aware that alternative routes would be selected?” Hanson Main asked.

Megan Lord-Hoyle, Baffinland’s vice-president of sustainable development, said that was not the intention of the workshop and the decision to choose route three was made later on.

“The intention was to identify crossing locations,” Lord-Hoyle said.

In their final submission to the NIRB, the MHTO has stated its opposition to the railway. But Hanson Main said that opposition is not clearly stated in Baffinland’s final phase two proposal.

The MHTO’s opposition to the railway was also not mentioned in presentations on the phase two proposal delivered by Baffinland over the weekend.

“Where has Baffinland addressed the community’s overall opposition to the railway development?” Hanson Main asked.

Lord-Hoyle said page two of Bafffinland’s rail alignment summary report recognizes the MHTO’s opposition.

The Hamlet of Igloolik also said Baffinland’s final proposal did not include their own concerns about the railway. Merlyn Recinos, Igloolik’s mayor-elect and technical adviser, also said the company never communicated any flexibility with respect to phase two’s output of 12 million tonnes of iron ore per year.

The 12 million figure has come into question recently over a document obtained by Oceans North that mentioned Baffinland’s plans to expand production up to 18 million tonnes per year.

“This is the first time I have ever heard of flexibility and it really concerns me. We want open and transparent communication.”

Later in the day, Ryan Barry, NIRB’s executive director, asked Baffinland if, in its view, the North Baffin communities support the phase two proposal.

Lord-Hoyle, responding for Baffinland, said the company has not seen formal submissions of support for the proposal but has heard a mix of both support and opposition during consultations.

Of the North Baffin communities, only the Hamlet of Arctic Bay has publicly stated its support for the railway through a letter to Baffinland.

Just before day three’s adjournment at 9 p.m., Recinos put forward a motion for all of the North Baffin communities affected by the project to meet together to discuss the phase two proposal. The motion also requests that NIRB keep its public record on phase two open until the first week of Dec. 2019.

Recinos said the communities have been trying to organize a meeting for some time, but recently received funds from Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada on Nov. 4 to organize a meeting.

It’s unclear when the NIRB will rule on the motion.

The hearing runs from Nov. 2 to Nov. 6 in Iqaluit and Nov. 8 to Nov. 9 in Pond Inlet. It is broadcast live in Inuktitut on IsumaTV.

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by short-sighted on

    I’ll have what Baffinland is smoking…with rapid climate change as we have seen here in Nunavut this fall with record breaking warm weather a rail line will totally not be feasible. It is irresponsible for this company to even consider this rail line project with unstable permafrost. It will be an epic fail.

    • Posted by Dave on

      Your ignorance is amusing. The engineering that will go into building a railroad on “unstable” permafrost is entry level stuff.

      • Posted by Larry on

        The mine will not proceed if the railway isn’t built. Running OHTs from the Mary River to the port 24/7 is like the most inefficient thing I’ve ever seen. 6 MT a year is not feasible long term and never has been, period. Everyone knew this from the very beginning, including the Inuit

        To sink all this money into the project and at the last second force a 1 year delay seems awfully fishy. All the project materials are already up there, all the people were already hired. They know they have a ton of leverage now.

        It is just too bad people’s jobs got caught up in the middle.

        Just pay them what they want and get this project started.

  2. Posted by Jerimiah on

    Thers nothing up there. no caribu no hare no nothing. not even mosqitoes

    build the mine. make jobs. we need economy.

  3. Posted by C.F. (Frank) May on

    Just to correct the mistake in this article: Arctic Bay did not endorse or support the railway that is part of Baffinland’s Phase 2 proposal. When presented with two options for a 12-km stretch of the railway route known as the “deviation” or “the dog-leg”, the Hamlet Council of Arctic Bay opted for the more easterly route. This does not imply that the Council or anybody else in Arctic Bay approved of the Phase 2 expansion. As of yet the Hamlet of Arctic Bay has not developed a position either in favour or against Phase 2.

  4. Posted by Mathieu chartrand on

    Railway is better for environement and it Will increase bennefit for communuty

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