Hearing on Baffinland’s expansion plans to resume Monday

Plan to double Mary River mine’s output opposed by Inuit organizations

The final hearing on Baffinland’s plans to expand its Mary River iron met is set to resume Monday. (Photo courtesy of Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Nunavut Impact Review Board’s final hearing on controversial expansion plans for the Mary River mine is set to resume Monday.

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. wants to double the mine’s annual shipments of iron ore to 12 million tonnes per year and build a 110-kilometre railroad from the mine to Milne Inlet.

Inuit organizations and representatives from nearby communities oppose the expansion, saying they worry about the impact on local wildlife and feel that Inuit have been left out of the planning process.

But both the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which hold mineral rights at Mary River, have said they’re open to negotiations.

In an interview with Nunatsiaq News in early March, Qikiqtani Inuit Association president P.J. Akeeagok said QIA is “always open as an organization in terms of where Baffinland may go,” and that the fate of the project “always remains with Baffinland.”

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. CEO Kilikvak Karen Kabloona also said Baffinland still has time to “improve [its] work.”

Federal and territorial government representatives, meanwhile, have said that Baffinland has satisfied their concerns with the project.

Most notably, the Government of Nunavut wrote in a Feb. 26 letter that it is “confident [Baffinland] will have appropriate plans in place to proceed with the [proposed mine expansion] in a responsible manner.”

In early February, a group of protesters from Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay travelled up to 36 hours by snowmobile to blockade the tote road between the Mary River mine and Milne Inlet and the airstrip.

The weeklong blockade cost the company approximately $14 million, according to an affidavit by Baffinland CEO Brian Penney.

The protesters left after a judge ordered a temporary injunction, which the group continues to challenge in court.

The upcoming hearing is an extension of an extension: In November 2019, the board adjourned the hearing after Inuit organizations said the company hadn’t done nearly enough to assess environmental risks and include Inuit in the project development.

The hearing resumed Jan. 25 to Feb. 6, then was rescheduled until the spring after representatives from hamlets and hunting associations said there wasn’t enough time for all of their questions and concerns to be heard and answered.

April’s hearing will be held in Iqaluit at the Aqsarniit Hotel, with five members from each affected community allowed to join.

The first four days will be allocated to finish the technical session. The following five days will be used for a community roundtable.

After the Nunavut Impact Review Board completes its hearing, it will pass its recommendation on to Dan Vandal, the federal minister of northern affairs.

Vandal will either take or reject the board’s recommendation and ultimately has the final say on the project.

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