Qikiqtani Inuit want to reopen benefits agreement with Baffinland

Magnitude of potential impacts revealed during technical meeting in Iqaluit

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association’s Levi Barnabas (fourth from right) says the QIA wants to re-open the Inuit impact and benefit agreement for Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s Mary River iron mine. Barnabas made the remark on June 19 at the technical meeting in Iqaluit on expansion plans for the mine. (Photo by Jane George)

By Jane George

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association’s Levi Barnabas is calling for the reopening of the Inuit impact and benefit agreement for Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s Mary River iron mine.

Barnabas, a director on QIA’s board, offered these parting words on Wednesday, June 19, during a technical meeting of the Nunavut Impact Review Board that was held in Iqaluit this week to review the company’s plans to expand its operations.

The current IIBA, which replaced the first agreement signed in 2013, was signed last October.

But the negotiations for this IIBA took place before Baffinland had filed its revised proposal with the Nunavut Impact Review Board to boost its operations in north Baffin.

And that deal was reached before the QIA realized how the mining company’s expansion might affect Inuit and the environment.

This became clearer during the second technical meeting called for this week by the NIRB on Baffinland’s project proposal.

In the short term, Baffinland wants to build a 110-kilometre railway in north Baffin, double its ore production to 12 million tonnes a year and extend the length of its shipping season from July 1 to Nov. 15 to accommodate about 175 transits of big ore-carrying ships.

The railway to the north of Mary River would likely start operating by 2021 and accommodate a total fleet of five locomotives and 200 cars. Building it would require multiple quarries and at least 12.7 million cubic metres of rock-fill.

This map shows the full extent of the company’s future expansion plans: one railway running north to Milne Inlet and another running south to Steensby Inlet, with eventual annual production of 30 million tonnes of iron ore per year. (File photo)

Discussion of the expansion’s cumulative effects during the three-day technical meeting often focused on how much uncertainty there is about its social and environmental impacts.

Participants at the meeting also shared observations of what they said were impacts due to the mine’s current shipping and mine operations: dislocation of narwhals last summer away from Pond Inlet and dust problems inland that are so visible that a normally white-coloured fox turned pink from red iron ore dust.

Barnabas said the QIA will continue to work with Baffinland.

But he said the technical meeting left him with many concerns and no time left to fully discuss them.

The role of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit continues to be the central concern of the QIA, which presented a report on IQ linked to the area around the mine during the meeting.

The use of Inuit knowledge is “vital,” Barnabas said, adding that IQ should be the lens through which Baffinland assesses the mine.

That was picked up in closing comments from Frank Tester, an advisor to Pond Inlet on the Baffinland project, who said Pond Inlet supports the QIA’s call to reopen the IIBA.

Tester, a researcher known for his previous studies of the impacts of mining in Nunavut’s Kivalliq region, then delivered a list citing Baffinland’s shortfalls in many areas.

Tester said IQ is “inadequate,” “poorly understood” and “improperly” used by Baffinland.

He said its social and cultural research, which he called out for a lack of inclusion of women, families and food security, is “inadequate.”

As for the cumulative effects assessment, Tester said it was “problematic” and that climate change hadn’t been properly assessed.

He also said Pond Inlet had serious concerns about the development of the proposed railway.

Other issues raised by Inuit around the table in their final comments included the need for better protection and preservation of archeological sites, as well as more contracting opportunities and involvement for the smaller communities closest to the mine.

Now Baffinland has three months to placate the QIA, resolve outstanding issues, such as how caribou will manage to cross the railway, provide information that various participants at the meeting requested and prepare for the final public hearing on the phase-two proposal.

This hearing was to take place in Pond Inlet in mid-September.

But due to the number of expected participants and the shortage of places to stay in the community, the hearing will now take place in both Pond Inlet and in Iqaluit, the NIRB’s executive director said.

The dates for the two hearings have been pushed back, to Sept. 23 to Sept. 27 in Pond Inlet and Sept. 30 to Oct. 4 in Iqaluit.

The hearing in Pond Inlet will focus on participation by local communities and groups. The hearing in Iqaluit will include additional participants and feature a community roundtable with five representatives invited from each of the communities of Igloolik, Hall Beach, Clyde River, Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay, Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord.

The NIRB is also planning to make a site visit to the Mary River mine before the hearings.

The changes to the initial plans for the final hearing mean the NIRB’s report with recommendations on Baffinland’s expansion will go to ministers in Ottawa about three weeks after the Oct. 21 federal election.

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(7) Comments:

  1. Posted by Kyle Kirby on

    Keep the pressure on Baffinland. Expansion is in full swing already. What I saw up there is wrong, production above all else.

  2. Posted by No Surprise on

    Tester said IQ is “inadequate,” “poorly understood” and “improperly” used by Baffinland.

    No doubt, so who does understand IQ and when are they going to explain it to the rest of us?

  3. Posted by Inuapik on

    Why is Levis Barnabas want to renegotiate? Is he not the chairman of Qikiqtaaluk Corporation 51% owner of Nuna Logistics which supposedly has the contract to build the railroad? And are the major contractor’s at the mine? I see conflict of interest…or just plain stupid on his part.

  4. Posted by oh ima on

    An IIBA was just recently renegotiated and ratified early this year, according to NCLA any IIBA will be renegotiated every three years.

  5. Posted by angut on

    Three Regional Inuit Organizations and Mining Companies should consider tax-free elders compensation in the IIBA. In the past with the inuit guiding the prospectors by dog team, the prospectors were able to find possibilities of iron, gold and diamond in the arctic. There are more possible activities coming in to the arctic like Scientific research, all-year-around shipping, oil and gas explorations, seismic studies and what not, if you can remember there were 8 principles to choose during the Land Claims negotiation back in 1980’s. Land claims was chosen, other 7 principles are yet to come. So, please include tax-free compensation to elders and yet to be elders in the every IIBA, this is part of the land claims we were want to see.

  6. Posted by Tommy on

    In the end, QIA Inuit are the losers.

    • Posted by snapshot on

      That’s QIA for you right there, doesn’t represent the people. Taking all the money that the Inuit owns and pocketing it themselves.

      This will change!!!

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