NIRB set to release its decision on Baffinland's request to increase production in mid-September

·3 min read
An aerial view of the Baffinland Iron Mine at Mary River on North Baffin Island. (Baffindland Iron Mine Corp.  - image credit)
An aerial view of the Baffinland Iron Mine at Mary River on North Baffin Island. (Baffindland Iron Mine Corp. - image credit)

The Nunavut Impact Review Board says it will release its recommendation on Baffinland Iron Mine's request to increase its production limit next month.

In a letter Thursday, the board said its reconsideration report and recommendations can be expected during the week of Sept. 19.

Board chair Marjorie Kaviq Kaluraq wrote in the Thursday update that the board understands the timeline is longer than that requested by Vandal, and "urged by Baffinland and several parties." Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal had urged the board to issue its recommendation by Aug. 26.

However, the board said it has to balance "the urgency of the decision," with its obligation to thoroughly assess the proposal.

Baffinland's proposal outlines its request to keep shipping ore at the same rate as it has in the last few years. In 2018, the company was given temporary approval to up its production from 4.2 million tonnes to six million tonnes, and that approval expired at the end of 2021.

The company said earlier this summer that if the limit is not increased, the company will run out of work for its employees within months, and has already sent termination notices to over 1,100 of its staff. The company said at the time that it was preparing for two rounds of terminations to take effect on Sept. 25 and Oct. 11 — if the company does not receive permission to continue extracting six million tonnes of iron ore annually from the Mary River mine.

Peter Akman, a spokesperson for Baffinland, said in an email that the approval for six million tonnes "is not unprecedented," adding it's a decision that's been made twice before since 2018.

"The additional time to make this decision is concerning for hundreds of families dependent on the Mary River Project for their economic security," Akman's statement reads in part.

"We are working around the clock to protect the future of our employees."

Arctic Co-ops warns of 'serious consequences'

An emailed statement from Duane Wilson, the vice-president of stakeholder relations with Arctic Co-operatives Ltd., criticized what he believes is a long waiting period, noting the delay could have "serious consequences."

Wilson said Arctic Co-ops Ltd. is a co-owner of an airline that has "extended timelines for planning staffing, maintenance etc." He said a delay to the decision by NIRB makes planning "absolutely impossible."

"We are forced to continue to gamble that we'll still be operating after the date of the layoff/termination notices," Wilson wrote.

"I can only imagine that the situation is the same for Baffinland itself and many other contractors."

Wilson said those concerns have been raised to NIRB and to Minister Vandal.

NIRB's process for considering the proposal for Baffinland to increase its limit mostly consisted of a written comment process. It also held a one-day community roundtable session on Aug. 16, where designated community representatives from the potentially affected North Baffin communities and Pond Inlet residents could comment or ask questions.

The period to submit comments on the proposal to increase Baffinland's production limit is now closed, the board said, and no further submissions will be considered.

The board said it won't be providing any further comment until its decision is released.