Inuit org blasts Baffinland for expansion plan information gaps
Missing reports make it hard to prepare for September public hearing, QIA says
In a strongly worded letter to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association has blasted Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. for multiple failures in providing information required for an environmental and socio-economic assessment of the company’s railway-based phase-two expansion plan for its Mary River iron mine.
QIA told the review board they don’t have enough information from Baffinland right now to allow them to adequately represent the interests of Qikiqtani Inuit or prepare for a public hearing that the review board proposes holding in Pond Inlet, starting this Sept. 16.
“We are not confident we have the required technical information that is necessary to proceed to a hearing at this point in time,” Jeremiah Groves, QIA’s executive director, said in a letter dated April 15.
The missing information that QIA complains about was supposed to have been provided to stakeholders prior to a set of technical meetings held earlier this month in Iqaluit, from April 8 to April 10.
On the last day of those meetings, Levi Barnabas, a QIA board member from North Baffin, said the review board’s assessment of the phase-two project is moving too quickly and that there are still too many unanswered questions.
In their April 15 letter, QIA does not explicitly propose a re-scheduling of the September public hearing—but they do request “direction from the board on the path forward.”
The missing information includes an icebreaking assessment, a simulated modelling report, a cumulative effects assessment, and about 40 separate management and monitoring plans.
“This impeded QIA’s ability to participate adequately on discussions about the likelihood of mitigating impacts or the adequacy of proposed monitoring plans to address potential impacts,” QIA said in the letter.
QIA’s complaints echo earlier complaints made by a federal government entity called the Northern Projects Management Office.
Part of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, the projects management office, located in Yellowknife, helps developers navigate northern regulatory systems and often speaks with one voice on behalf of the many federal departments that participate in environmental assessments.
“Not having this information prior to the technical meetings will limit the ability of federal departments to discuss these topics in a meaningful and constructive manner at the technical meetings,” the projects management office said.
That was in a letter, sent on behalf of seven federal agencies, on April 5, before the technical meetings started.
Baffinland had responded by promising to supply the outstanding material between May and July 10.
But QIA said that doesn’t give stakeholders enough time to produce final written submissions.
“Given that final written submissions are due from parties on August 10, this three-month delay from Baffinland seems unfair,” the QIA said.
The Inuit organization also said it doesn’t like Baffinland’s proposed solutions, such as adding a day to some working group meetings.
QIA also said the information Baffinland has submitted so far does not allow for a full consideration of the potential impacts of its phase-two expansion.
Baffinland’s $900-million expansion plan is based on building a 110-kilometre railway from Mary River to Milne Inlet.
That would double its permitted level of ore production to 12 million tonnes a year, and extend the length of its shipping season from July 1 to Nov. 15.
At the same time, marine vessel traffic to and from Milne Inlet through Eclipse Sound would increase to at least 175 round trips a year.
Coupled with the future construction of a southbound railway from Mary River to a port at Steensby Inlet, which Baffinland received approval for in 2012, ore production from Mary River could one day reach 30 million tonnes a year.
“Pond Inlet is at risk of a major escalation in the impacts they experience from the Mary River Project. QIA and Inuit have historical concerns that may be exacerbated by more trucking, building railways and shipping,” QIA said.
As of the time this story was prepared, the NIRB had yet to say if it has decided to re-schedule the September public hearing in Pond Inlet.