New Inuit benefit agreement crucial for future of Mary River mine, says Baffinland
“Baffinland cannot wait until the end of COVID to secure its phase two approval”
Baffinland Iron Mines’ CEO Brian Penney says some negotiation was involved between the company and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association in writing the recently signed Inuit Certainty Agreement, but it was agreed upon by both parties overall.
The new joint benefit agreement, called the Inuit Certainty Agreement, outlines direct benefits for the communities affected by the Mary River mine, Inuit oversight of the project, and expanded programming for the affected communities.
P.J. Akeeagok, QIA’s president, said the new agreement “puts Inuit in the driver’s seat.”
Highlights of the agreement include Inuit-led environmental monitoring, expanded wildlife compensation, increased royalty payments, and financial commitments to build daycares in the affected communities.
Many of the benefits outlined in the new agreement for Inuit between the QIA and Baffinland depend on the approval of the Mary River mine’s phase two proposal, Penney said.
“Baffinland requires the financial stability that phase two delivers to execute on these benefits,” Penney told Nunatsiaq News.
In its phase two proposal, Baffinland proposes increasing Mary River’s production from six million to 12 million tonnes of ore per year. The expanded mine would be served by a 110-kilometre railway from Mary River to Milne Inlet and up to 176 ship voyages each season.
“Under our current operations we would never be able to deliver these benefits. The cost structure … does not support the benefits that we’re offering in this ICA,” Penney said.
Penney said the 172-page ICA was years in the making, but developed after communities met with Baffinland and the QIA in February.
Penney said the parties agreed that environmental protection was one of the most important parts of the agreement.
“We need to provide certainty to Inuit involved in monitoring the impact relative to the project and, as well, have input into the adaptive management and how we’re going to address any potential impact,” Penney said.
“I think the financial component of the ICA, although significant, is a small component of the overall protection that this gives Inuit from an environmental perspective and from a training and employment perspective.”
In November 2019, the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s public hearing on Baffinland’s phase two proposal for Mary River was abruptly adjourned after some interveners, including the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization, expressed concerns about the project’s environmental impacts and the lack of consultation with communities.
Technical meetings and a pre-hearing conference were set to begin in March, and then in April, but were halted again because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Penney and Akeeagok said that since that time the parties have had time to meet with communities and ultimately write the ICA.
“We all became teleconference experts and Zoom experts and I really don’t think it interfered that much with this process. In fact, I think it facilitated the process. Normally we would have waited and met in person, because of COVID we understood that it was important to get this work done,” Penney said.
But as the pandemic persists, Penney said he wants the final public hearing for phase two to resume as quickly as possible.
“Baffinland cannot wait until the end of COVID to secure its phase two approval,” Penney said.
“That being said, we think that it’s also important that Inuit have the ability to have their input in the process and clearly state their opinions, and that it’s heard by NIRB.… The fact that the ICA has been delivered to communities tells me that if we work closely together and respect each other’s views, that we can deliver on this public hearing.”
Karen Costello, the NIRB’s executive director, told Nunatsiaq News that the board is developing “procedural guidance” for next steps on resuming technical meetings and the pre-hearing conference. That guidance should be issued sometime in July, she said.
Costello also said the NIRB is aware of the ICA but is not affected by it.
“It indicates that significant conversations have been had,” Costello said.
The Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization did not respond to Nunatsiaq News’ request for comment by deadline.