Nunavut regulators call second technical meeting on Baffinland iron mine expansion
“We are not confident we have the required technical information that is necessary,” QIA says
Another technical meeting will be held next month to consider Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s plans to expand its Mary River mine.
In early April, a week-long technical meeting in Iqaluit heard many complaints about the lack of details about the environmental impacts of the expansion, which would see an increase in shipping to about 175 round-trip transits a year and the construction of a 150-kilometre railway.
The second meeting, which will take place from June 17 to June 19, will give the company a chance to provide additional information, and allow other parties—including representatives from north Baffin communities, federal and territorial government departments and environmental groups—a chance to respond.
Baffinland has said its phase-two expansion plans are “essential for the viability of its project.”
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association sent a letter to the NIRB last week, saying it didn’t have enough information to properly prepare for public hearings scheduled in Pond Inlet in September.
The NIRB appears to share these concerns, judging by a letter sent on April 18 by its acting chairperson, Kaviq Kaluraq, to participants in the project’s assessment.
The letter notes that during the technical meeting concerns were “repeatedly raised by participants regarding their inability to undertake technical review and provide comment for specific agenda items due to data gaps and insufficient information having been provided by Baffinland in support of the assessment.”
Kaluraq’s letter warned that “if adequate information is not provided in accordance with agreed upon timelines, the assessment cannot move forward in accordance with the process and timelines originally proposed by the NIRB.”
These include a final public hearing on the project, still slated to go ahead Sept. 16 to Sept. 20 in Pond Inlet.
Baffinland said at the technical meeting held earlier this month that it wanted to stick to that timeline, and again, in a letter sent April 17 to the NIRB, the company stated that “it is entirely reasonable to maintain the established NIRB review schedule.”
But that schedule is not written in stone, the NIRB said in its April 18 letter: “Although the NIRB is aware of Baffinland’s strongly stated desire to preserve the September public hearing timeline, Baffinland is advised that failing to supply sufficient information to support the assessment in a timely fashion that allows parties time for review may result in delays in proceeding to a public hearing.”
The final public hearing means recommendations will be made by the NIRB to the minister by Nov. 4—about two weeks after the Oct. 21 federal election.
The NIRB also nixed Baffinland’s proposal to hold meetings of its marine, environmental and terrestrial committees to push the assessment process along. The board’s April 18 letter said that “these groups (are) unsuitable vehicles for the broader discussion of the ongoing assessment” of the phase-two expansion plans.
That’s because what takes place in these meetings is not public and does not necessarily flow into the materials used by the NIRB to make its determination about the project.
Even before the first technical meeting took place in Iqaluit, there was unhappiness about many missing reports.
On April 5, the NIRB received a letter from the Canadian Northern Development Agency’s northern projects management office, noting that Baffinland’s ice breaking assessment, simulation modelling report, updated cumulative effects assessment and updated mitigation and monitoring plans were lacking and that “not having this information prior to the technical meetings will limit the ability of federal department to discuss these topics in a meaningful and constructive manner at technical meetings.”
The goal of the new, two-railway expansion is to reach an annual production of 30 million tonnes of iron ore per year.
The price tag for this expansion is expected to be about $900 million.
What the proposed northern railway will look like remains a bit of a mystery: at the technical meeting in Iqaluit there was no geophysical report on the proposed railway from Mary River to Milne Inlet, but, based on information shared at that meeting, two or three trains will run by about 10 times a day, taking up to a minute to run by a person—or a caribou.
Caribou crossings are planned for every 10 kilometres or so.
The impact of that railway on wildlife and that of increased shipping and icebreaking on polar bears and narwhal and other marine mammals are likely to be discussed at length during second technical meeting.