North Baffin reps seek to block upcoming hearing for Mary River mine
Hunters say pandemic makes it difficult for their non-Nunavut advisers to attend
North Baffin leaders want the Nunavut Impact Review Board to postpone an in-person public hearing on the controversial railway-based expansion of the Mary River iron mine.
That hearing is set to run Jan. 25 to Feb. 6 in Pond Inlet.
In its “phase two” expansion plan, Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. proposes a 110-kilometre railway between Mary River and Milne Inlet, up to 176 ship transits per year, and annual production of up to 12 million tonnes of ore.
The review board’s first attempt to do a public hearing on that proposal abruptly ended in chaos on Nov. 6, 2019.
Delegates at that hearing complained they weren’t given enough information about the expansion, and what they were given was not translated. On top of that, they said Inuit hadn’t been given enough opportunities to ask questions and voice concerns.
Now, after months of technical meetings and negotiations, the board is ready to press the restart button.
This time, it has scheduled an in-person public hearing in Pond Inlet, linked by video to hubs in Iqaluit and Ottawa. A maximum of 50 people would be allowed into the Pond Inlet and Iqaluit venues.
Leaders representing the Hamlet of Clyde River and the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization of Pond Inlet filed motions late last week — now available on the review board’s public registry — demanding postponement of the hearing.
Clyde River’s motion calls for postponement until at least March 2021.
A letter signed by Clyde River Mayor Jerry Natanine alleges the hearing will pose a threat to public health because of the COVID-19 pandemic and that the pandemic has “disrupted the review process” and made it difficult for Clyde River to participate.
For its part, the Pond Inlet hunters organization wants postponement until after the 14-day quarantine rule for entry to Nunavut is lifted.
The Pond Inlet hunters say they rely on non-Nunavut experts and lawyers — and current pandemic restrictions make it extremely difficult for them to travel to Pond Inlet for the hearing.
They also want a postponement until after a vaccine is distributed widely in Nunavut, and until after public health rules can allow public gatherings of at least 100 people.
Other groups have also chimed in.
Paul Okalik of WWF-Canada said in a letter that in his opinion, the review board’s actions violate Article 12 of the Nunavut land claims agreement, which require the review board to take all necessary steps to ensure public participation.
He called the upcoming hearing potentially dangerous.
“We are puzzled how a Nunavut-based body is willing to risk public safety,” said Okalik.
In a lengthy letter, the mayors of Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay, Igloolik and Sanirajak also make multiple objections to the timing of the hearing.
The environmental assessment of the Mary River expansion has taken many twists and turns since its start in 2013, but next month’s hearing would be the last big step in the process.
After it’s over, the review board will make a recommendation to the federal government on whether the expansion should go ahead, and if so, on what terms and conditions.
Baffinland had once hoped to get federal approval of the project by the end 0f 2019. In the summer of that year, it shipped two 10-storey prefabricated buildings to Milne Inlet as well as as a large amount of railway material.
Now, the push is to get the project approved in time for the start of the 2021 Arctic sealift season.
The review board has given a Jan. 7 deadline to comment on the Clyde River and Pond Inlet notices of motion. But it hasn’t said when there will be a ruling on them.