‘There has to be that constant dialogue, in order to fully work together in collaboration,’ says Paul Quassa
Baffinland Iron Mines is not giving up hope that it can win over Nunavut communities, along with the hunters and trappers groups.
After the company’s proposed mine expansion project was rejected by the federal minister this week, Baffinland’s Paul Quassa says the company will head to communities before Christmas for more talks.
“We’re constantly going to the communities,” said Quassa, a senior advisor with the company and an Iqaluit city councillor.
He said it’s all about “having good communications” with people and the hunters and trappers in each of the communities.
“There has to be that constant dialogue, in order to fully work together in collaboration.”
He said as an Inuk himself, he hunts, eats country food, and he “fully understands” the concerns people have raised.
“We all do. And that’s why we are constantly in communications … to talk about mitigations. What can we do to mitigate these issues?” he said.
Increased output, construction plan prompted worries
The expansion project at Baffinland’s Mary River mine, which sits about 160 kilometres from Pond Inlet, 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 110-kilometre railway to the Milne Inlet port.
In May, the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB), after a long review, recommended that it not be allowed to proceed. 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.
On Wednesday, Dan Vandal, northern affairs minister, agreed that the project should not go ahead for the time being.
Nunavut MP Lori Idlout said earlier this week that many Inuit are not necessarily opposed to mining operations, but that they want it done as safely as possible. James Simonee, a Pond Inlet resident also told CBC News this week that he was relieved the project wasn’t going ahead, however, that he wasn’t totally opposed to mining in general.
“It’s not that we want the mine to close, but we don’t want Phase 2,” Simonee said.
Quassa said mitigation the company has already implemented includes handing out gas vouchers to Inuit in Pond Inlet area to go out hunting, to ensure they can “continue hunting in a traditional way, to ensure that food security is there.”
“We’ve told other communities that if we are going to be doing more work closer to your area, these are the things that we can give,” he said.
Company to address concerns
Quassa said Baffinland is also a large contributor to employment and the economy in Nunavut.
“Certainly Baffinland has contributed a lot of money and provided employment to Inuit in all the five communities that are being affected,” Quassa said.
The company’s goal, he said, is to make sure environmental concerns and developments can both be addressed.
“I truly, truly believe that environmental and wildlife issues and development can go hand in hand. And that’s exactly what our goal is to ensure that those two can go hand in hand,” he said.
“There’s a lot of other things that are happening right now to ensure that we are meeting the concerns of the communities and you know, we’re constantly there telling them we want to work with you, what can we do?”
As for the current employment of employees — about 2,500 people including about 300 Inuit — he said they won’t be impacted by the rejected proposed expansion.
“We will continue working as we did before,” he said. “The work that we are doing now is not going to change. We’re not going to be losing employees because Phase 2 didn’t go ahead.”
He said as long as the company can mine and ship its current allowance, “that’s a guarantee that jobs will be available, we are not going to be losing employees.”
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Baffinland CEO disappointed by rejection of company’s expansion project, CBC News
Russia: New mining project sets sights on Chukotka in Russia’s eastern Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer