Restart public hearing in April, Baffinland tells Nunavut board
Embattled iron miner says more delays could threaten jobs, scare investors
The Nunavut Impact Review Board should press the restart button next April on its troubled final hearing on the Mary River phase two expansion proposal, the Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. told the board last Friday.
They say that’s a “reasonable compromise” that gives Baffinland about five and a half months from when the last hearing ended to provide the technical information that intervenors were demanding before the NIRB public hearing in Iqaluit ground to an abrupt halt this past Nov. 6.
That includes more information on the potential impacts of increased shipping on marine wildlife and the potential impacts of the proposed 110-kilometre railway between Milne Inlet and the Mary River mine site, and how the company plans to mitigate them.
The exact route of that railway has yet to be finalized. But the company said a five-and-a-half-month delay would provide time to resolve that problem through discussions with North Baffin communities.
A five-and-a-half-month delay would also create time for more technical workshops in February or March, Baffinland said.
So they suggest a two-week hearing that would start around April 18, after the Easter weekend. Under that proposed schedule, NIRB would still have time to send its recommendations to the federal government—the ultimate decision-maker—by June 2020.
The federal government, through Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal, can’t make a decision on the project unless the NIRB completes its assessment and issues a report to Ottawa with recommendations.
If the federal government does decide later this year to let the railway-based expansion go ahead, construction of the phase two expansion could start in 2021, Baffinland said.
More delays could scare investors
But they warned the company has already suffered “significant harm.”
And any further uncertainty could scare investors away from the project and threaten Inuit jobs and other benefits, which include potential royalties of up to $2 billion that the project could deliver to Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association over its lifespan, the company said.
Last November, 586 contract workers, including 96 Inuit, were sent home about a month early because of the delay in the phase two regulatory process.
Until recently, Baffinland was expecting to receive federal government approval of the phase two expansion in early 2020.
So the laid-off contract workers were supposed to have been demobilized in December 2019, then brought back to work next year to carry out the company’s 2020 workplan and to do phase two expansion work, the company said.
But that won’t happen now.
“An extended delay or suspension of the NIRB process as suggested by some parties would result in serious and negative effects to Baffinland as well as its employees,” Baffinland said.
NIRB ponders NTI motion for lengthy delay
The review board’s first attempt at a final hearing ended in disarray this past Nov. 6 in Iqaluit, after the president of NTI, Aluki Kotierk, introduced a motion asking for the hearing to be deferred for eight months to a year.
Kotierk said that’s because Inuit in the affected communities, and other stakeholders, need more time to get answers from Baffinland on the project’s impacts on wildlife, people and the environment.
“There hasn’t been enough time given to the observers and those around the table to give their input,” Kotierk said near the end of the hearing.
The review board’s chair, Kaviq Kaluraq, after consulting the board’s lawyer, Teresa Meadows, and hearing from other stakeholders, responded to Kotierk’s motion in two ways.
First, she said NIRB would cancel the remaining two days of the public hearing, which were supposed to have been held on Nov. 8 and Nov. 9 in Pond Inlet, because of “an incomplete technical record.”
By that point the hearing was way behind schedule and all parties, including Baffinland, agreed the NIRB needed more time.
But before deciding on the length of the delay, Kaluraq said the review board wanted written submissions from any intervenors who wanted to weigh in on the issue.
NTI then refined its position, calling for a delay of nine months to a year, and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association filed a hefty 26-page legal brief supporting NTI and calling for a one-year delay.
Even before the public hearing started, the QIA, which acts as Baffinland’s landlord, said it cannot endorse or support the phase two proposal right now.
The QIA’s lawyers cited two recent higher court decisions involving the National Energy Board on “deep consultation” with Indigenous peoples.
But Baffinland said the NIRB’s consultation procedures are “far superior” to those of the NEB and already provide for Inuit participation in the decision-making process.
“Their argument fails to take into account the difference between the structure of the National Energy Board’s process and that of the NIRB and the participation by Inuit in the review of the Phase 2 Project proposal to date,” Baffinland said.
Some other intervenors do not support a delay of up to one year. The Government of Nunavut, for example, said the hearing should be delayed only until “the first available dates,” unless another party can substantiate why it should be delayed for a longer period.
As for the Government of Canada, it supported an immediate adjournment but will leave it up to the NIRB to decide how long.
The review board says it is now considering NTI’s motion.
“The board is currently considering the submissions from intervenors and the proponent. Further direction on the next steps will be provided in the coming days,” NIRB said in an email.
In its phase two proposal, Baffinland proposes a 110-kilometre railway from Mary River to Milne Inlet, increased production from six million to 12 million tonnes of ore per year, and up to 176 ship transits each season.
In a separate proposal, Baffinland will soon ask the NIRB for permission to continue at their current production limit of six million tonnes a year, a limit that expires this December.