Inuit groups have 1 week to argue delay of environmental mine hearing

Today was supposed to mark the start of a community round table in Pond Inlet over the expansion of the Mary River Mine. 

But instead, Baffinland Iron Mine's Corp. and Nunavut Inuit organizations are preparing written responses for when hearings about the mine's expansion — which adjourned on Wednesday — should begin again.

The Nunavut Impact Review Board began technical hearings for the mining company's phase-two expansion project in Iqaluit on Nov. 2. That project could see the mine's output of iron ore doubled, to 12 million tonnes. It will require a railway, and a longer shipping season.

The round table, planned for Nov. 8 and 9, was supposed to allow time for residents to ask questions that came from the technical hearings. But five days in to the hearings, parties were still working through day one of the agenda. 

That's why Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, the organization that represents Inuit in Nunavut, made a motion to adjourn the hearing for nine to 12 months. 

"It seemed that we were not going to follow a good process if we proceeded with the community round table," said the organization's president Aluki Kotierk. "Community members would not have all the technical information that they rightly deserve to have." 

Baffinland agreed with the adjournment but not the length of delay. 

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association now have until Nov. 15 to tell the Nunavut Impact Review Board in writing why each believe hearings should be delayed that long. The time would allow for communities to review new information in all languages. 

Baffinland will file its new submission to the review board by Nov. 22.

According to the Nunavut Agreement, all land development projects, like a mine, must be screened by the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

Right now, the mine is allowed to ship six million tonnes of iron ore annually. But as of December that allowance will expire and Baffinland will only be approved to ship around four million tonnes. 

At the hearings, Baffinland told communities and government departments that the expansion is required for the mine to prosper. 

'We didn't take this lightly'

Kotierk says the mine has indicated that it can survive a delay, but the proposed timeframe is less than ideal. 

"We didn't take this [decision] lightly at all," said PJ Akeeagok, president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which represents Inuit in the Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin) region.

"It was evident that there are many unanswered questions." 

Especially from Pond Inlet, the community most impacted by the mine, he said. Mary River is around 150 kilometres outside of the community. 

"For Inuit to have an informed decision for phase two to advance or not you need all relevant information to make that sound decision."

At the technical hearings this week the Hamlet of Pond Inlet and the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization said they strongly oppose the lack of information they said they had from the mining company. There are still a lot of unknowns about how the mine will impact the marine environment, harvester rights and food security for North Baffin communities.  

"We have to find that balance — absolutely we support the jobs it creates, the economic spinoffs the mine creates," Akeeagok said. "At this point in time it was unbalanced, that was very evident."

Beth Brown/CBC

Board should rule before year end

The review board's executive director, Ryan Barry, says it should take about two weeks after these new submissions come in for the board to make a decision.  

It's too early to say what new hearings would look like. 

"We certainly would expect to have those in Pond Inlet to the extent that we possibly can," Barry said. 

He said decision to approve the the delay was not made lightly.

"We realize that any adjournment of an assessment can cause delays that can have real implications ... on the viability of a project and the employment and benefits that are associated with development," said Barry.

"The board unfortunately doesn't have enough information to get to a decision on this proposal at this time," Barry said of the mine expansion project. 

In an emailed statement Baffinland said it supports the review board's process, and thanked all of the parties for their participation.

"We look forward to continuing engagement," stated Megan Lord-Hoyle, the company's vice-president, sustainable development.