North Baffin residents call for investigation into Mary River mine

·3 min read

A group of North Baffin residents is calling for Nunavut’s environment minister to investigate the spread of iron ore dust from the Mary River mine.

Sworn statements by some of the residents allege the dust, released by the operations of Baffinland Iron Mines Corp, “is widespread and destructive, killing vegetation, impacting on animal life and interfering with water sources for animals and humans.”

“The contamination is spreading across North Baffin and is extensive enough that it is visible in satellite imagery,” the documents submitted to the territory’s environment minister say.

Some of the 11 complainants are members of Nuluujaat Land Guardians, who recently blockaded the Mary River mine, while others are supporters, according to a news release issued by the group on Monday.

Under the territory’s Environmental Rights Act, residents may apply to have the territory’s environment minister, Joe Savikataaq, investigate suspected cases of environmental contamination.

The minister has 90 days to provide the applicants with a progress report. Savikataaq can also end the investigation if he thinks there is no threat.

Savikataaq, who is also the territory’s environment minister in addition to being premier, confirmed he received the applications.

“Government of Nunavut officials are reviewing the applications and I will be responding promptly,” Savikataaq told Nunatsiaq News.

The complainants allege that “the company knows of and neglects or refuses to remedy this escape of contaminants.”

Baffinland disputes this.

Heather Smiles, the company’s manager of stakeholder relations, said the Mary River mine is “one of the most environmentally sustainable iron ore operations in the industry” and that it was “designed in accordance with some of the highest standards anywhere in the world.”

Smiles said that the release of dust is an expected part of open-pit mining, and the company tracks and assesses the spread of dust each year.

Baffinland has made efforts to reduce the spread of dust since operations began, Smiles said, including adding covers to crushing and loading equipment and spraying water on roads to keep dust down.

“Baffinland constantly evaluates opportunities to further mitigate dust and implements adaptive management strategies that consider feedback from communities,” she said in an email to Nunatsiaq News.

Baffinland is seeking permission to build a 110-kilometre railroad from the Mary River mine to Milne Inlet as part of plans to double its output to 12 million tonnes of iron ore per year.

The company says it needs to expand its mining operation to make it financially viable. It’s also said that its expansion plans would reduce the spread of dust.

Smiles said that the use of trains may reduce dust by 76 per cent from what was measured in 2019, and crushing ore for a second time indoors rather than outdoors, could reduce dust at the Milne Inlet site by 77 per cent from what was measured in 2019.

The spread of dust was one of the concerns raised by Qikiqtani Inuit Association president PJ Akeeagok in a recent interview with Nunatsiaq News. QIA recently announced it would oppose Baffinland’s expansion plans.

The Nunavut Impact Review Board’s final hearing into Baffinland’s proposed mine expansion was extended prior to the close of the Jan. 25 to Feb 6. session.

The next hearing session is planned for April 12 to 21 in Iqaluit, with five members from each affected community allowed to join. The first four days will be allocated to finish the technical session, then the last five days will be held for a community roundtable.

David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News