Baffinland Iron Mines’ request to increase production again this year at its Mary River mine is met with mixed reactions from some Nunavut communities.
The application – which, if approved, would allow the company to extract up to six million tonnes of ore from its Mary River mine in 2022 – is now before the Nunavut Impact Review Board ( CNER). And behind the request is a threat, with Baffinland saying more than 1,000 people will be laid off from next month if it is not approved.
NIRB is seeking written comments from communities, Inuit organizations and other stakeholders on whether the request should be granted. Some have already submitted their comments to the CNER before the board’s deadline next week.
The hamlet of Pond Inlet, closest to the mine, is favorable, as is the hamlet of Arctic Bay. Both hamlet councils passed motions in July to support the temporary increase in production.
“As one of the smallest communities in Nunavut, there aren’t many other local job opportunities,” Arctic Bay Mayor Moses Oyukuluk wrote to NIRB in June.
“Arctic Bay views Baffinland Mining as an economic benefit to the community in employing and training its residents and donating funds and equipment to various charities and athletic groups.”
A group of Pond Inlet elders also written to the Federal Minister, citing the benefits of the mine to the community. The letter names five people who are part of the group, but it is not known who else they represent.
Meanwhile, the community of Clyde River, further south on Baffin Island, is decrying Baffinland’s temporary surge in production and “last minute” demand.
Jerry Natanine, Clyde River’s chief administrative officer, told CBC that his community feels the current production limit of 4.2 tonnes per year is already “too much”. And he says Clyde River is unhappy with the way the mine has been run.
“They don’t have good adaptive management plans. They don’t have proper records of current marine mammal baseline data and current level of fees and what communities are getting or not getting,” Natanine said.
“All of those things that we identified throughout the hearing are still issues that haven’t been fixed. I mean, none of them.”
In a letter to CNER on Wednesday, Clyde River Mayor Alan Cormack also takes issue with CNER’s timeline for the review of increased production.
“The Hamlet of Clyde River is unable to meaningfully participate in the expedited process that NIRB is conducting,” he wrote.
“There were only 14 working days between the official announcement of the process by CNER and the deadline for written comments.”
Cormack also says Baffinland should have already submitted its application last year.
“Instead, the company waited until the very last minute, and now it’s trying to force it through a process that Clyde River can’t really participate in,” he wrote.
“No more work to do” once the limit is reached
Baffinland initially received temporary permission in 2018 to increase annual production to six million tonnes. This was renewed in subsequent years, but expired at the end of 2021.
The company hoped to have a decision by then on its Phase 2 expansion project – which would increase iron ore production to 12 million tonnes per year – but that proposal is still before the federal minister.
Now the company says it is approaching its limit of 4.2 million tonnes this year and will therefore have to stop production within months.
“Once we hit that amount, we have to stop,” Baffinland spokesman Peter Akman told CBC News. “For the rest of 2022, we won’t have any more work to do.”
CNER has decided that another temporary production increase for this year “constitutes a material modification to the Mary River project as previously assessed”, according to a letter sent to Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal last month. The Board of Directors decided that it was therefore justified to review the original terms and conditions of the project.
The board also recognized that time was an important factor.
Minister Vandal has asked CNER for a recommendation by August 26, but the council says this is not possible “due to logistical constraints and existing council commitments”.
“However, the Commission remains committed to completing the review as soon as possible,” CNER wrote to Vandal last month.
The CNER collects technical comments from stakeholders, in writing, until August 11th. This will be followed by a community roundtable in Pond Inlet on August 16th.
Baffinland will then have a few more days – until August 19 – to submit its final response to written submissions and community roundtables.