Northern Affairs minister approves Baffinland's temporary production increase — with conditions

An aerial view of Baffinland Iron Mines Corporations's Mary River Mine project on North Baffin Island. (Baffindland Iron Mine Corp.  - image credit)
An aerial view of Baffinland Iron Mines Corporations's Mary River Mine project on North Baffin Island. (Baffindland Iron Mine Corp. - image credit)

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. can officially increase its production until the end of this year at the Mary River Mine in Nunavut's Qikiqtaaluk region.

A letter from Dan Vandal, minister of Northern Affairs, dated Tuesday, said that after considering the proposal carefully with the other responsible ministers, he decided to accept the Nunavut Impact Review Board's recommendation last month to approve the temporary production increase.

However, the company must follow through on mutually agreed upon commitments and proposed amendments to the project reached between Baffinland and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association to address specific environmental concerns, the letter said.

The minister said five terms and conditions of the project have been added relating to: improving the terrestrial and marine environment working groups; criteria for the commencement and closing of the shipping season; establishing hunters's access routes; auditing dust impacts; and establishing a program to identify high-risk conditions for dust dispersion.

Along with those, a host of other terms were amended, and, to ensure the commitments are monitored and enforced, a project monitor — an independent third party — will be put in place to oversee their implementation, the letter said. This was mutually agreed upon between Baffinland and QIA.

"It is our full expectation that Baffinland follows through on these commitments as they are an integral link to the success of the Mary River Production Increase Proposal Renewal," Vandal's letter reads in part.

David Gunn/CBC
David Gunn/CBC

Under its current operating licence, Baffinland is allowed to mine up to 4.2 million tonnes of ore from Mary River each year. Since 2018, however, the company has been granted temporary permission to mine up to 6 million tonnes per year. It asked for the same again this year.

The company had previously said if it didn't get the approval to increase production, then over 1,000 employees, including hundreds of Inuit employee, could lose their jobs.

In recommending the proposal be accepted, the Nunavut Impact Review Board said if "Baffinland's commitments to additional mitigation and monitoring measures are implemented, the potential for significant negative environmental and socio-economic effects associated with the proposal can be effectively managed."

The comment came after Baffinland's request drew mixed response from Nunavummiut.

Peter Akman, Baffinland's spokeperson, said in an email the company is "pleased" with Vandal's decision, which he said signals "the importance of Baffinland to the Nunavut economy."

Akman said the approval is what helped preserve its workers' jobs.

Vandal is still considering another request from Baffinland, to significantly expand the mine's operations and output in the years to come. The NIRB earlier recommended against that plan.

Vandal said his decision on that file will come "in due time."

Akman said he expects to receive Vandal's decision "in the coming months."

Akman also said Baffinland believes its phase two application "addresses Inuit concerns."

"Baffinland is committed to responsible operation and believes we can operate in a manner that protects the environment while creating economic prosperity and building stronger communities," he wrote.