Pond Inlet hotel renovations complicate final hearing on Mary River expansion

NIRB staff may bunk down in Arctic Bay; others may stay at mine site

This map shows where Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. plans to build railways to transport iron ore from its Mary River mine on northern Baffin Island. (File photo)

By Nunatsiaq News

Renovation work at the Sauniq Inns North Hotel in Pond Inlet is creating a headache for the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s attempts to schedule a final public hearing on Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s expansion plans for its Mary River iron mine.

Pond Inlet is the community that would be most affected if the Mary River expansion were allowed.

But the hotel reno is making it difficult to figure out how to house all the hearing participants who would need accommodation in Pond Inlet.

The review board had once hoped to hold the final hearing this fall in two parts: in Pond Inlet from Sept. 23 to Sept. 27 and in Iqaluit from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4.

But earlier this month, Baffinland asked for more time to provide required information to north Baffin communities and to the Qikiqtani Inuit Association.

To make that happen, the company proposed a six-day hearing in Pond Inlet only, starting Nov. 4.

Pond Inlet’s Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization, a major player in the environmental review process for the Mary River expansion, said it supports the delay that Baffinland proposed.

But it also said it opposes holding the hearing in Pond Inlet only, since many intervenors may wish to use technical experts.

“We agree that it is important to facilitate community participation, but believe hosting separate dates—one in Pond Inlet to focus on community input, and another in Iqaluit to focus on technical expertise—will be the best means to achieving this,” the HTO said in a letter to the review board.

So NIRB now proposes a later hearing, split like this:

• Technical presentation, Iqaluit Cadet Hall: Nov. 2-4
• Community roundtable, Iqaluit Cadet Hall: Nov. 5-6
• Public hearing, Pond Inlet Community Hall: Nov. 8-9

As for accommodations for the two days in Pond Inlet, NIRB staff and board members will stay overnight in Arctic Bay.

All other Pond Inlet hearing participants will stay at the Mary River mine site.

As for the Nunavut Water Board, which is working with the NIRB on co-ordinating the environmental assessment, it’ll look at a technical meeting of its own in November and a possible hearing in February.

“The NIRB will work with Baffinland to finalize details for participants regarding accommodations and transport from the Mary River Mine Site to Pond Inlet each day November 8 and 9 to attend the public hearing proceedings,” the review board’s executive director, Ryan Barry, and the Nunavut Water Board’s acting executive director, Karén Kharatyan, said in a letter.

The new proposed scheduled would still allow the NIRB to submit a final report to the federal government by Dec. 24, the review board said.

But the new schedule isn’t final yet—the NIRB and the NWB are now waiting to hear from the federal government on whether Ottawa will pay the cost of the proposed new hearing schedule.

“While the necessary hotel and meeting spaces have been reserved, funding approvals from Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) for the amended process must still be obtained by the NIRB and will be requested as soon as possible,” the NIRB-NWB letter said.

In its phase-two proposal, Baffinland wants to build a 110-kilometre railway between Milne Inlet and Mary River, double its ore production to 12 million tonnes a year and extend the length of its shipping season to July 1–Nov. 15 to accommodate about 175 transits of big ore-carrying ships.

The railway to the north of Mary River would likely use a fleet of five locomotives and 200 cars. Building it would require multiple quarries and at least 12.7 million cubic metres of rock fill.

The company already has a project certificate, received in 2012, allowing a railway running south to a port at Steensby Inlet.

That means that in time, Baffinland’s iron ore production from Mary River could one day reach 30 million tonnes a year.

An earlier version of this story misidentified Ryan Barry’s title. Barry is executive director of the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

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