Baffinland CEO kicks off hearing on mine expansion with calls for collaboration

·3 min read

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. CEO Brian Penney struck a hopeful tone on the opening day of the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s final hearing on his company’s proposed mine expansion, saying that many concerns about the project have been addressed.

He also offered a warning: the Mary River iron mine can’t continue operating unless it’s allowed to grow.

“The [Mary River] project has not been financially sustainable, regardless of ore price,” Penney said Monday as the hearing got underway in Pond Inlet though its proceedings were streamed online.

The nine-member Nunavut Impact Review Board assesses the environmental and socio-economic impacts of development projects and advises the federal and territorial governments on whether they should go ahead.

For the Mary River mine to turn a profit, Penney said, Baffinland needs to reduce transportation costs.

The proposed 110-kilometre railway between Mary River and Milne Inlet, among other additions, would help accomplish that, he said.

Since the hearing was put on hold in November 2019, Baffinland has tried to address concerns about the environmental and cultural impact of its phase two plans.

These attempts included an Inuit stewardship plan, to allow Inuit to “report on social, environmental, and cultural impacts” of the phase two proposal, which will be run by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and paid for by Baffinland.

As well, the Inuit Certainty Agreement, a multimillion-dollar agreement between the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Baffinland, was signed in July 2020 and outlines community benefits, Inuit participation in the project and incentives for affected communities.

But it looks like these inducements may not be enough.

P.J. Akeeagok, president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, said in his opening remarks that organizations involved are unsatisfied with the specifics of the project, including how and in what quantities ore will be shipped.

“Baffinland, I ask you to be adaptive, I ask you to challenge the depth and the form of your commitments to Inuit,” Akeeagok said. “Heed the advice you have been given about the environment you are seeking to operate among [and] within; acknowledge your place as settlers within an Inuit homeland. Your project grows out of Inuit lands and resources.”

On Sunday, a statement issued by the hunter and trapper organizations and hamlets from North Baffin called the project’s adaptive management “ineffective and dysfunctional.”

“The existing Mary River mine and proposed expansion have caused serious concern among North Baffin communities,” the statement reads. “While there are some benefits, we are not convinced the benefits outweigh the adverse impacts.”

Penney, prior to the lunch break, said he is willing to work with Inuit to complete the deal.

“We are very proud of the work our team has done over the past year to improve the project, expand the benefits, and to support and enhance the framework for project planning, monitoring and adaptive management to achieve environmental and social sustainability,” Penney said.

The final hearing will continue until Feb 6. Afterwards, the review board will send a report to federal Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal recommending whether the project should go ahead.

Meagan Deuling, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News