Environmental assessment of Mary River mine’s proposed expansion resumes this week
Technical meetings, stalled since March, to be held this week via teleconference
The stalled environmental assessment process to examine Baffinland Iron Mine Corp.’s proposed phase two expansion resumes this week.
Technical meetings that were supposed to happen in March, but were cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions, are taking place by teleconference from Sept. 14 to 18.
The mining company has been trying to get the process restarted throughout the summer, over protests from leaders of the five North Baffin communities that will be affected by the proposed expansion of production at the Mary River mine.
Community leaders have been saying that they don’t want the assessment to resume until they can safely meet in person.
On July 10, Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal wrote to Karen Costello, the NIRB’s executive director, proposing that “it is appropriate to recommence the formal reconsideration at this time.”
Baffinland CEO Brian Penney said in a July 24 letter that further delaying the review process would be a “breach of procedural fairness.”
The communities closest to the Mary River mine are Pond Inlet, Sanirajak, Arctic Bay, Clyde River and Igloolik. At the end of August they started speaking as a unified voice, the North Baffin Community group.
The leaders of the communities, along with Inuit organizations and conservation groups, have raised concerns about the ability of people to properly participate in meetings over the phone, especially those who require Inuktitut interpretation.
The Nunavut Impact Review Board said in a draft agenda for the meetings, published on Aug. 24, that simultaneous interpretation will be provided to the “extent practicable.”
Jaypetee Audlakiak, the mayor of Sanirajak, said in a comment submitted to the NIRB’s draft agenda that “our participation will be significantly limited if engaging in meetings that are not held face-to-face.”
This opinion was repeated in submissions from the mayor of Pond Inlet, the Igloolik working group, the mayor of Clyde River, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the North Baffin Community group, the World Wildlife Foundation, Oceans North and the Nunavut Independent Television Network.
“We will participate in the planned technical meetings, because removing ourselves from the discussion would be introducing even greater disadvantage,” Audlakiak said in his submission.
In its final agenda, released on Sept. 9, the NIRB added that it will have “mechanisms in place to resolve technical issues that come up, including breakdown in communication.”
The NIRB wrote in the final agenda that the meetings will be recorded and aired on the Pond Inlet community radio station.
It will also “investigate the feasibility” of hosting a radio show where the recordings will be aired in all five communities, and community members will be given a chance to phone into NIRB staff with any questions or concerns about the information provided at the meetings.
This is because the technical meetings, as originally planned, were meant to be in-person and open to the public.
The meetings are meant to give intervenors, which include community representatives, Inuit organizations and conservation groups, a chance to get more information from the mining company.
NIRB called the meetings after what was supposed to be the final public hearing was stalled last November, because intervenors weren’t satisfied with the information Baffinland was providing.
Baffinland is applying to expand the mine’s annual production of iron ore from six million tonnes to 12 million tonnes. In order to do that, it is proposing to build a railway from the mine to a port at Milne Inlet.
However, intervenors aren’t satisfied with how Baffinland has addressed their concerns about how increased production, transport and shipping will affect caribou and marine mammals, especially the narwhal population that migrates through waters near Pond Inlet.
They say Baffinland hasn’t been clear on where it plans to build its railway.
Furthermore, several intervenors expressed that it’s unclear whether Baffinland intends to expand annual production to 12 million tonnes, or to 18 million tonnes, or 25 million tonnes.
The NIRB added an item to the first day of the technical meetings, allowing Baffinland to clarify “the tonnage to be ultimately shipped per year via Milne Inlet.”
In March, community roundtables and a pre-hearing conference were supposed to take place after the technical meetings. These are now scheduled to take place in-person in Pond Inlet, with remote participants joining by video from Iqaluit, Winnipeg and Ottawa.
At the beginning of August, Baffinland asked the NIRB to schedule the final public hearing for the end of October. But the NIRB declined this request and still has to set a date for the final public hearing.