Canada’s Northern Affairs minister says no to Baffinland mine expansion

Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal said in the summer that he would need more than the typical 90 days to review the NIRB’s recommendation. His decision is now expected on Wednesday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Minister Dan Vandal delivered the verdict 6 months after review board recommended against project

Baffinland Iron Mines’ expansion project for the Mary River mine site in Nunavut won’t be going ahead for the foreseeable future.

On Wednesday, Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal delivered his verdict on whether the company could go ahead with its Phase 2 project at the mine — and the answer was a no.

In a letter, the minister wrote that he, along with other responsible ministers, have “carefully considered” the proposal, along with the input from designated Inuit organizations, and that he’s decide to accept the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s earlier recommendation “that Phase 2 should not proceed at this time.”

The expansion project would have seen the mine’s annual output double to 12 million tonnes of ore. The project would have also involved the construction of a new 110-kilometre railway to the Milne Inlet port.

Vandal said in his letter that the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated wrote to him on Oct. 25. They echoed concerns in NIRB’s findings, and said there “remains a consensus of the designated Inuit organizations and Hunters and Trappers Organizations” that significant adverse effects from Phase 2 can’t be adequately “prevented, mitigated, or adaptively managed under the proposed mitigations.”

Vandal also said he and the other ministers involved are “sensitive to the economic significance” of both the ongoing Mary River Mine operations and the proposed expansion to the North Baffin region, and Nunavummiut more generally.

“However, we have taken particular note of the conclusions of the board, the designated Inuit organizations and the Hunters and Trappers Organizations (given their specific roles outlined in the Nunavut Agreement), who have expressed a lack of confidence that Phase 2, as currently conceived, can proceed without unacceptable impacts,” he said.

Before making the decision, Vandal said he and the other ministers considered materials “relevant” to United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention).

He said that included environmental impact assessments received from the public and authorities in Greenland and Denmark.

“Of note, in correspondence to Canadian officials on July 1, 2022, Greenland’s Ministry for Agriculture, Self-Sufficiency, Energy and Environment indicated that Greenland’s concerns regarding significant adverse effects are reflected in [NIRB]’s report, and that it supports the board’s recommendation that Phase 2 should not proceed at this time.”

‘I’m overwhelmed,’ says Pond Inlet resident

The verdict from the minister came as good news for Pond Inlet, Nunavut, resident James Simonee who says he’s “speechless.”

“I’m not sure how to express my feelings. But I feel like I’m overwhelmed and thankful for not approving the Phase 2,” he said.

“It will be useful for people of Pond Inlet, especially for hunting marine mammals.”

The mine site lies about 160 kilometres from Pond Inlet, and its port at Milne Inlet is about 100 kilometres away from the community. There’s a tote road between the mine site and the port, and residents are supposed to keep a mile away from the mine complex. In previous hearings, residents expressed frustration when they are denied access to the land.

For Simonee, he said there is some worry about how the verdict will impact the local economy.

“It’s not that we want the mine to close, but we don’t want Phase 2,” Simonee said.

James Simonee is a Pond Inlet, Nunavut, resident. (Submitted by James Simonee)

Overall, Simonee said he’d like to thank the minister for making this decision.

“Thank you so much for understanding … how we feel, and how we’ve been affected, especially with the marine mammals around us.”

A long process

Vandal’s decision has been a long time coming. It’s been six months since the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) concluded its review of the project with a recommendation that it not be allowed to proceed.

The NIRB’s review was a four-year process — the longest review in the board’s history — that pitted economic development against environmental protections and the sustainability of traditional hunting. The full report, released in May, is 441 pages.

The NIRB concluded that the mine has the potential for “significant adverse ecosystemic effects” on marine mammals, fish, caribou and other wildlife, which in turn could harm Inuit culture, land use and food security.

The project should therefore “not be allowed to proceed at this time,” wrote NIRB chairperson Kaviq Kaluraq to Vandal in May.

Normal procedures give the federal minister 90 days to accept, vary or reject the board’s recommendation. That would have meant a decision from Vandal by mid-August.

The minister instead said in July that he would need more time, and pushed his decision back another 90 days, to November.

In the meantime, Vandal gave the go-ahead last month to another temporary production increase at the mine for this year.

The decision has also been posted on the board’s public registry.

In a statement last spring, Baffinland CEO Brian Penney said the company was disappointed by NIRB’s recommendation, and would ask the federal government “to consider all of the evidence and input and to approve the Phase 2 application with fair and reasonable conditions.”

In 2016, when the NIRB recommended a gold mine in Nunavut’s Kitikmeot region not be allowed to go ahead, then-federal minister Carolyn Bennett rejected that recommendation, asking NIRB to give the project a second chance.

That mine was given approval the following year.

-With files from Teresa Qiatsuq Nick Murray

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Northern Affairs minister approves Baffinland’s temporary production increase — with conditions, CBC News

Russia: New mining project sets sights on Chukotka in Russia’s eastern Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer

CBC News

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