Baffinland works to woo support for its iron mine expansion in 1st day of community roundtables

·4 min read
Community members speak Tuesday at the ongoing Nunavut Impact Review Board hearing about the worries they have about Baffinland's proposed expansion of the Mary River Mine. (Jane George/CBC - image credit)
Community members speak Tuesday at the ongoing Nunavut Impact Review Board hearing about the worries they have about Baffinland's proposed expansion of the Mary River Mine. (Jane George/CBC - image credit)

Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation hopes to smooth the way forward for its expanded Mary River iron mine proposal during this week's Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) hearings in Iqaluit.

But concerns over wildlife and the mine's overall impact surfaced during the first day of community roundtable sessions held in Iqaluit, and remotely from Pond Inlet, Nunavut.

These contrasted with the mining company's promises of increased environmental controls, more involvement for Inuit and attention to traditional knowledge, community improvements — and new cash for the community.

And, looming over the roundtables was the potential of the company pulling the plug on the mine, which could likely mean many local jobs lost. At the start of the hearings, Baffinland's vice-president of sustainable development, Megan Lord-Hoyle said if the mining company doesn't get approval for its proposed Mary River's expansion, it could decide to shutter the mine into care and maintenance.

On Tuesday, the first of four days slated for community roundtable sessions, the NIRB board, Baffinland and other intervenors heard from several community members who said they are upset about the mine's expansion plans.

A maximum of 100 participants are allowed to participate in person, including the board, Baffinland staff, intervenors, nominated community representatives and identified media members. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions in place, the meetings are not open to the public.

'Absence of wildlife'

In separate statements to the meeting on Tuesday, Kaujak Komangapik and Jayko Allooloo of Pond Inlet told how the existing mining development had already affected the presence of wildlife in the area. They said there are fewer narwhals and caribou to be found.

"It's emotional for us," Allooloo said. "Physically we are being affected by the absence of wildlife."

Meanwhile, Komangapik said she was concerned about the mining project's overall impact.

The expansion of Baffinland's Mary River iron mine into its phase 2 would carry new impacts associated with increasing the mine's production to 12 million tonnes of iron ore a year, the construction of a 110-kilometre railway and the passage of up to 168 huge iron-ore carriers a year.

Phase 2 would be the stepping-stone to ramping up production to 30 million tonnes a year, Baffinland has said.

The company's vice-president, Iqaluit-raised Udlu Hanson, worked to offer a visual presentation of how this expanded project would be not just bigger but also better. For one, Hanson said the larger-sized shipping fleet would mean fewer trips, which many say disturb marine life.

And, iron ore would head out of the mine for shipment by train instead of haul trucks. These trains would pass by every two to three hours—and they would free up the tote road for local use, Hanson said, something residents have sought.

Jane George/CBC
Jane George/CBC

With the mine's growth, communities near the mine would also see hubs for job training, new garages and day cares, Hanson said. As well, for the community of Pond Inlet, which sits closest to the mine, there would be more jobs for its growing population of about 1,800 and more cash, including $10,000 to hunters and trappers for every ore carrier passing by, she said.

Baffinland's new senior advisor, Paul Quassa, who is Nunavut's former premier, also urged acceptance of the Phase 2 proposal to "use our resources."

"It's an opportunity for people to work," Quassa said.

Olayuk Akesuk, president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which has negotiated lucrative benefit agreements for Inuit with Baffinland, also urged everyone to go forward with "positivity instead of negativity."

"We shouldn't disagree," Akesuk said, because otherwise Inuit might miss out on "great things."

Jane George/CBC
Jane George/CBC

Mine might not actually shutter, says NGO intervenor

There were doubts about what would happen if phase 2 doesn't get its project certificate, in which case Baffinland said it might advance with its care and maintenance ultimatum and jobs would be lost.

Most of the 300 Inuit-held jobs would be laid off, as "very few positions" would be needed to run the shut down mine, Lord-Hoyle confirmed.

But Chris Debicki, vice-president for policy development and counsel for Oceans North Conservation Society, an NGO intervenor at the hearings, told CBC he doesn't think Baffinland would actually mothball its profitable iron-rich mine.

"According to their own public statements, Baffinland's costs per tonne presently are, on their own statements, $41 per tonne, so conservatively around $50/tonne including shipping costs," said Debicki.

"Even now, when iron ore prices have dropped markedly since the summer, they are at $124/tonne USD. This is the operation they are threatening to mothball if they don't get approval."

The NIRB round table meetings continue until Saturday.

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