A view of Baffinland Iron Mine's camp at Milne Inlet in Nunavut in August 2014

A view of Baffinland Iron Mine's camp at Milne Inlet in Nunavut in August 2014
Photo Credit: Baffinland

Arctic mine’s contentious request

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An Inuit organization has asked a federal minister to get involved in a dispute in the Arctic. Bernard Valcourt, the federal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development minister, now finds himself caught between a huge mining company asking him to intervene on their behalf, and the Inuit asking him to intervene on their behalf against the company.

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp operating near the Mary River on Baffin Island, wants to increase its production from 4.2 million tonnes per year to 12 million tons, and seek an amendment to a land-use plan allowing it to break ice to be able to ship ore to Europe for ten months a year from the current ice-free season only

Original proposal of a rail corridor that Baffinland Iron Mines Ltd. wants to build to ship iron ore from its proposed iron mine at Mary River on northern Baffin Island to a port at Steensby Inlet. (from May 1, 2012 technical briefing, Iqaluit
Original proposed railway corridor of the transportation orridor that Baffinland Iron Mines Ltd. wants to build to ship iron ore from its proposed iron mine at Mary River on northern Baffin Island to a port at Steensby Inlet. (from May 1, 2012 technical briefing, Iqaluit © Baffinland

 In April, the Nunavut Planning Commission (NPC), which had already amended the North Baffin Land Regional Use Plan once in order to suit the company, rejected this new proposal.

The NPC, created out of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, said in its decision, “Ice is an essential part of life in the North. For people, for polar bears, for seals and other animals in the North, ice is a bridge — both metaphorically to the past and present Inuit values and activities, also actually as a fact”.

The company then filed a request for an amendment to the Land-Use plan.

On May 5, a letter was sent to Baffinland from NPC chairman Hunter Tootoo. He wrote that the NPC no longer has the funds to conduct a proper public consultation and technical review.  He wrote that the NPC is in negotiations with the federal government for additional funding, and when that is complete, the NPC will be in a better position to respond to the company’s request.

Building of the railway over permafrost requires special contstruction. due to low prices for ore, the company says it can't raise the billions necessary for construction of the 150km line to Steensby Inlet and has asked for an amendment to ship from Milne Inlet already connected by a tote road
Building of the railway over permafrost requires special contstruction. due to low prices for ore, the company says it can’t raise the billions necessary for construction of the 150km line to Steensby Inlet and has asked for an amendment to ship from Milne Inlet already connected by a tote road © Courtesy of Baffinland

On May 21, Baffinland then asked the federal minister for an exemption from the Land-Use Plan.

Now, because the NPC can’t study the request, the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB), which would be the next step in the process, can’t proceed either.

The Company has requested Minister Valcourt to exempt them so the request can bypass the NPC and go directly to the NIRB for an environmental screening.

Now, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association has in turn invited the Minister to come to nearby Pond Inlet to hear the concerns of residents in person regarding the company’s request.

They say they have continually been left out of the decision-making process and maintains the process should proceed through the NPC stage.

Baffinland insists there would be ample opportunity for all parties to be heard in public consultations at the NIRB stage.

Original mining certificate changed

In 2012,  Baffinland Iron Mining was permitted to build a port at Steensby Inlet and ship 18 million tonnes of ore by a railway from the mine about 150 km inland.

The company then almost immediately asked for an amendment to ship 3.5 million tonnes via Milne Inlet, which is connected by a road, during the ice-free season. This was granted in 2014.

Because of low prices for iron ore, the company now says it can’t raise the billions necessary for the proposed railway and Steensby Port, thus requesting the amendment to ship from Milne with icebreaking in a ten month season,  and that Minister Valcourt to exempt them from the NPC process only months after the previous change.

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