Review board defers Baffinland’s request to submit financial summary

Company wants NIRB to understand why they need proposed expansion at Mary River

As part of the second phase of development at the Mary River iron mine, Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. wants to build a railway to its Milne Inlet port. The company says this expansion is needed to ensure the mine’s viability. (Image courtesy of Baffinland)

By Elaine Anselmi

(Corrected 11:45 a.m., Nov. 4)

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. wants a chance to explain why its Mary River iron mine needs to expand to remain viable during a final hearing in Iqaluit before the Nunavut Impact Review Board on the company’s phase two expansion proposal.

But the review board ultimately decided to defer a decision on allowing the company to submit an 11-page summary of its audited financial statements that would be kept in confidence.

“With respect to the second motion from Baffinland regarding providing the board with the described economic summary document in confidence, the board has deferred consideration of this motion until deferred responses from Baffinland are provided, and all information from the technical sessions has been heard,” said chairperson Marjorie Kaviq Kaluraq on Sunday, Nov. 3.

Baffinland, in a notice of motion, said they want the NIRB to better understand why the company requires a greater annual rate of ore production, from six to 12 million tonnes a year, to make the Mary River operation financially viable.

But they also want that financial information kept confidential and kept off the NIRB public registry.

Baffinland’s offer to submit those confidential financial details coincides with accusations from Oceans North that the company had told investigators it had plans to triple production at Mary River—a far bigger increase than what had been shared with the public about its expansion plans.

Oceans North’s criticism was based on a 722-page document called a “preliminary offering circular” that Baffinland distributed among potential bond holders in 2018. The conservation group initially submitted the document to the NIRB, but the board later removed it from its public registry, after Baffinland raised a “confidentiality issue.”

The meeting over the weekend also heard some support for Baffinland’s expansion plans.

Danny Arvaluk, a hamlet councillor from Hall Beach, where Baffinland employs 66 people, said this of his community’s residents: “Some of them are not walking face down anymore because of the opportunities.”

For that reason, he said, they are not opposed to the mine expansion.

But the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which represents Inuit across the region, has said it’s not able to support the mine expansion plans due to environmental concerns raised by its members, particularly in Pond Inlet, the community closest to the mine.

The expansion plans involve building a railway from Mary River to the mine’s Milne Inlet port.

Baffinland reported in its 2018 annual report that 14 per cent of its workers were Inuit.

One the second day of the hearing, Lou Kamermans, director of sustainable development for Baffinland, said the company had increased Inuit employment from 150 in 2017 to 470 today. Seven Inuit are in supervisory or higher roles.

Some intervenors have raised doubts about Baffinland’s assertions that the Mary River mine must expand if it’s to remain sustainable.

A sworn affidavit by Oceans North researcher Georgia MacDonald says that Baffinland’s preliminary offering document suggests that “the mine is far more profitable than previously disclosed. This calls into question the Proponent’s assertions that there is a financial need for expansion.”

Oceans North proposed that Baffinland’s hearing be suspended until information contained in its circular for investors was fairly considered.

But the board denied this request.

Chris Debicki, vice-president of policy development for Oceans North, questioned whether the miner’s future was in question due to money already spent on shipping equipment and materials for the as-yet-unapproved expansion.

He asserted that this spending is to the tune of about $400 million. That, Debicki said, makes the mine’s operators “crazy gamblers.”

Megan Lord-Hoyle, Baffinland’s vice-president of sustainable development, replied: “It’s not relevant, it’s not a question and I have no comment in response.”

An earlier version of this story contained inaccurate information. NIRB decided to defer consideration of Baffinland’s motion until later and has not denied it.

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