Nunavut Impact Review Board recommends temporary production increase for Baffinland

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)

Nunavut's review board is giving its OK to a proposal from Baffinland Iron Mines to temporarily increase production again this year at its Mary River mine.

It's a recommendation that could, according to the company, help keep the mine viable and keep more than 1,100 jobs off the chopping block this fall.

The Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) completed a streamlined assessment of Baffinland's proposal this month, under pressure from the company and the federal government to move quickly. Baffinland argued that without a prompt decision, it would be forced to halt operations this fall and lay off 1,156 employees.

Under its current operating licence, Baffinland is allowed to mine up to 4.2 million tonnes of ore from Mary River each year. The last few years, 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 NIRB is recommending that the company be allowed another temporary production increase, and which could save those hundreds of jobs.

"The Board has concluded that if recommended revisions to the existing Project Certificate ... and 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 board stated in a news release Thursday.

The final decision, however, will be made by Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal. There is no word on when that decision will come but Vandal had earlier urged NIRB to issue its recommendation by mid-August, saying time was crucial.

Meantime, Vandal is also 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.

Baffinland's request to increase production this year drew mixed response from local communities, organizations and company employees.

Termination notices to be delayed

In a statement, Baffinland spokesperson Peter Akman said the company is pleased about the NIRB's decision and that the company urges Vandal to approve the production increase for the rest of the year.

"The NIRB recommendation clearly recognizes the importance of Baffinland to the Nunavut economy and that allowing the company to continue producing will preserve hundreds of high paying jobs," Akman said.

"Baffinland is committed to responsible operation and believes we can continue to operate in a manner that protects the environment while creating economic prosperity for the territory."

Akman aslo said that "out of care and concern for the livelihoods of our employees and their families," the company will delay the issuance of termination notices until Oct. 20 — the day after Vandal's office has indicated it will be able to respond to the NIRB recommendation.