While the two hamlets closest to Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s Mary River mine have written letters of support for the company’s bid to increase its iron ore shipping allowance, hunters and trappers organizations in those communities are concerned about the review’s expedited timeline.
Mayors Moses Oyukuluk of Arctic Bay and Joshua Arreak of Pond Inlet wrote to the Nunavut Impact Review Board this month, stating that their hamlet councils approved motions supporting Baffinland’s application to ship six million tonnes of iron ore this year, rather than the 4.2 million tonnes it’s currently permitted to ship.
“Council and I would like to encourage the NIRB to review and make the decision as the situation is now urgent,” Oyukuluk wrote to the board’s chairperson, Marjorie Kaviq Kaluraq.
Since 2018, Baffinland had been operating under a temporary permit allowing it to ship six million tonnes of iron ore out of its iron mine, located on northern Baffin Island.
However, that permit expired at the end of December, requiring the company to revert to its previous permit to ship 4.2 million tonnes this year.
If Baffinland is not granted an extension to its temporary permit, more than 1,300 employees could be laid off as a result, the company has said. Baffinland chief executive officer Brian Penney set the stage for the layoffs when he filed a notice with the Nunavut Labour Standards Office on June 3.
Prior to that, Penney had requested an emergency order from federal Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal that would have allowed the minister to go over the board’s head and approve a shipping limit increase.
Vandal denied that request on June 1 and encouraged Baffinland to go through the NIRB review process, which the company is currently doing.
In his letter, Oyukuluk spelled out the benefits to Arctic Bay’s economy and to families of the 16 contractors and 27 employees who work for the mine.
He said there are few other opportunities for employment, and that the company is present in the community, donating to sports leagues and charities.
“If the mine ends up in a care and maintenance position because a timely response was not received, it will have a severe impact on the economy of Arctic Bay,” Oyukuluk wrote.
Sanirajak Mayor Jaypetee Audlakiak also sent a letter of support for Baffinland’s increase.
Baffinland spokesperson Peter Akman said in an email the company is pleased to hear public support for the mine that it has “heard privately for a long time and that has been minimized through vocal opposition groups.”
“We encourage the NIRB and [Vandal] to recognize the support of important stakeholders and affected communities, as well as the facts and commitments made by Baffinland in our application, and to distinguish these from campaigns and statements based on falsehoods,” he wrote.
Despite the support from some hamlets, Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet’s hunters and trappers counterparts say they are concerned by the timing of the application and NIRB’s deadlines.
Ikajutit Hunters and Trappers Association chairperson Qaumayuq Oyukuluk, located in Arctic Bay, wrote in a letter that Baffinland’s application for a shipping increase was submitted during “prime harvesting season when many community members are out of town.”
“The timing of Baffinland’s request leaves the impression that Baffinland has a dismissive attitude and approach towards community engagement,” he wrote.
Akman said the company has held hundreds of meetings with community members that have resulted in changes to the shipping season, the way dust is handled, and jobs.
He said Baffinland listens to Nunavummiut and is committed to working with the communities.
NIRB is under pressure to review this application quicker than usual after Vandal told the board to prioritize it before others, in a July 11 letter.
Pond Inlet’s David Qamaniq, chairperson for the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization, said the application shouldn’t call for any accelerated review process.
By applying for a permit in May 2022 for the 2022 shipping season, Baffinland is showing a “lack of respect for the regulatory process,” Qamaniq wrote.
He also called it “a dangerous precedent” for companies to “not plan” for permits, then go through an expedited review process to make up for lost time.
As an explanation for why the company waited to apply, Akman said Baffinland had expected to receive a decision on its Phase 2 expansion plans before its permit to ship six million tonnes of iron per year expired in December 2021.
David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News