Baffinland performs damage control, clarifies expansion plan
Iron ore miner proposes multiple community visits early this year
In a gesture aimed at meeting a recent Nunavut Impact Review Board request, Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. has filed a 110-page update that’s also clearly intended to rescue its expansion plan from the tangled muddle of questions that emerged at last November’s public hearing.
“The enclosed materials provide a definitive understanding of the Phase 2 Proposal and the status of issue resolution achieved between the Company and Interveners current to the date of this submission,” the company said in a letter to the review board earlier this week, on Jan. 7.
At the same time, it has proposed a meeting of North Baffin community representatives, to be held in Igloolik from Jan. 13 to Jan. 16.
After that, the company proposes a round of community engagement visits to Clyde River, Pond Inlet, Igloolik, Hall Beach and Arctic Bay, plus workshops at various locations with representatives from all communities .
It proposes to do most of those engagement activities between Jan. 19 and Feb. 21.
“Baffinland continues to place the highest regard in our desire to develop a sustained positive relationship with your respective communities and believes that with your help we can achieve that,” Megan Lord-Hoyle, Baffinland’s vice-president of sustainable development, said in a letter to mayors of the five affected communities last December.
But that’s not all. After a pre-hearing conference in Iqaluit that the Nunavut Impact Review Board has scheduled for March 25, Baffinland proposes even more community visits.
It would squeeze those in between March 25 and the start date for resumption of the public hearing that adjourned abruptly last Nov. 6.
At the same time, Baffinland’s updated information package attempts to resolve disputes and clear up numerous questions related to its proposed railway, marine shipping and iron ore production plans.
That includes clarifying how much ore it proposes to extract, and from which part of the project:
• For transport by rail along the 110-kilometre “North Railway,” from Mary River to a port at Milne Inlet: 12 million tonnes per year, up from the current 4.2 million tonnes per year.
It’s that North Railway, most of which would run next to the existing tote road, that’s at the heart of its current phase-two expansion proposal.
• For transport by rail along the future “South Railway,” from Mary River to a port at Steensby Inlet: 18 million tonnes per year.
This was the original plan that Baffinland received federal government permission for in 2012—before it opted to start production using a truck route to Milne Inlet instead.
• Total eventual ore production, if the phase-two plan is approved: 30 million tonnes per year.
Baffinland clarifies railway plans
As for the railway, Baffinland has now clarified its preferred route, which the company revealed to intervenors at last November’s public hearing.
It’s marked on the maps as “Route 3.” Like the other two proposed routes, it mostly follows the existing tote road.
But at a spot called “kilometre 67 hill,” it veers off to the south and takes a big detour before heading back to hug the tote road.
That deviation is to avoid hills that are too steep for trains to climb.
And on the deviation alignment, the company says it’ll continue to meet with communities to refine the exact route.
The company also apologized for an English-Inuktitut translation error, in which the English term “deviation” was translated into Inuktitut terminology in a way that suggested development of the route was delayed or postponed.
Baffinland also says the railway embankment for the North Railway will have “gentler slopes” than the design of the future South Railway, to make it easier for caribou to get across them.
The company also plans at least 30 level crossings and four culverts to allow people and caribou to get from one side of the railway to the other.
Again, those plans aren’t final.
“The final number and location of crossings is anticipated to be informed by Inuit during the construction of the railway,” Baffinland said.
Shipping route, shipping season clarified
In another section of the update, Baffinland clarified its marine shipping plans.
The company said it will not ship ore through the Northwest Passage or through Navy Board Inlet around Bylot Island.
The only shipping route it will use for the phase-two expansion is through Milne Inlet and Eclipse Sound—the same route the company uses now.
As for the length of the shipping season, Baffinland proposes that it run from July to Nov. 15 each year.
But that’s not carved in stone, and Baffinland proposes the actual shipping season should be subject to the following conditions:
• The Mittimatalik hunters and trappers organization must confirm in writing that the floe edge is no longer being actively used by community members.
• Land-fast ice must be broken along the entire shipping corridor.
• Vessels must obtain permission from NORDREG (a federal government agency) to navigate in prevailing ice conditions.
• No icebreaking will occur during sensitive seal life-cycle periods. Transit restrictions will be applied during seasonal migratory movements of narwhal into Eclipse Sound and Milne Inlet.
“Baffinland is planning additional workshops with community representatives to finalize its approach towards the shipping season and will report the outcomes of these meetings to the NIRB as they are available,” the company said.
And on another shipping issue that produced confusion last year, the company confirms that it proposes 176 “voyages” per year, with a voyage defined as a trip into and out of Milne Inlet.
“A transit is considered to be a one-way track either to or from Milne Port by any of the vessels. A voyage represents two transits through the Northern Transportation Corridor,” the company said.
And Baffinland said it commits to “never surpass” 176 voyages per year.
But within that constraint, the company said it wants the ability to vary the annual rate of iron ore production, depending on seasonal and market conditions.
“For clarity, this would mean that if in a given year 11 MT [million tonnes] were transported, the following year could see the transportation of 13 MT, if this can be achieved within the stated activity limits of 176 ore carrier voyages per shipping season and an average of 10 train trips per day,” Baffinland said.