Nunavut Impact Review Board rejects proposed Baffinland expansion

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The Nunavut Impact Review board has recommended that Baffinland’s Phase 2 expansion not be allowed to proceed.

In a letter to Dan Vandal, the federal minister for northern affairs, Nunavut Impact Review Board Chairman Kaviq Kaluraq said the mine has the potential for “significant adverse ecosystem effects” on marine mammals, fish, caribou and other wildlife, which in turn could harm the Inuit. culture, land use and food security.

Kaluraq’s letter also noted the potential for “transboundary effects on marine mammals and fish and the marine environment outside the Nunavut Settlement Area.”

Lastly, he noted that those effects “cannot be prevented, mitigated, or adaptively managed,” even with the proposed revisions to the project certificate that the board has already issued to Baffinland.

The long-awaited recommendation was released Friday, following a four-year review process that pitted economic development against environmental protections and the sustainability of traditional hunting. The full report is 441 pages long.

Baffinland, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and the Nunavut government have declined interviews until they can review the report.

In a press release, Baffinland CEO Brian Penney said the company was disappointed with the decision.

“Our Phase 2 proposal is based on years of in-depth study and detailed scientific analysis, and has considerable local support based on years of consultation with Inuit and local communities,” Penney said.

“We will ask the federal government to consider all evidence and input and to approve the Phase 2 application on fair and reasonable terms.”

Ultimately, the decision rests with Vandal, who has previously said he will make a decision within 90 days of the NIRB’s recommendation.

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In 2016, when the same board recommended that a gold mine in the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut not be allowed to go ahead, then-Federal Secretary Carolyn Bennett rejected that recommendation, asking the NIRB to give the project a second chance.

That mine was approved the following year.

The Mary River mine has been operating in northern Baffin Island since 2015 and can currently mine and ship up to six million tonnes of ore per year.

Baffinland had requested to double its iron ore shipment from its Milne Inlet port to 12 million tons a year and to build a 110-kilometre railway to the port.

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Canadian mining company Baffinland, which struck a deal with the Inuit to extract iron ore in 2014, now wants to double its output and even build a railway through traditional hunting grounds. For many Inuit there, that idea pits jobs against environmental concerns.

Baffinland also made a host of promises to nearby communities in connection with the expansion process, including jobs, money, environmental monitoring programs, boats, day care centers, training centers and more.

The company also committed to gradually ramping up shipping over four years from Phase 2 approval, and to ban the use of heavy fuel oil seven years before it is banned in Canada’s Arctic.

Many of the commitments are tied to a $1 billion Inuit Certainty Agreement that Baffinland signed with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association in 2020, depending on the expansion procedure.

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Still, QIA decided not to support the expansion, citing a lack of trust between communities and uncertainty about whether the proposed new mitigation measures will actually work with a larger mining operation.

There were too many uncertainties

In a press release, NIRB explained in more detail some of the considerations behind why it decided to reject the proposal, in its longest and most extensive review to date.

In particular, the board said that “despite the best efforts of all parties, the board had no confidence that the proposed measures would limit or prevent these negative effects.”

In addition to financial commitments, Baffinland had promised many mitigation measures to address concerns heard during public hearings, most of which were related to the environment.

“The board has concluded that the evaluated proposal cannot be carried out in a manner that protects the ecosystem integrity of Nunavut and that protects and promotes the current and future well-being of the residents and communities of Nunavut and Canada generally,” the statement read. NIRB press release.

The board also listed six areas of uncertainty that had been raised during the public hearings, including whether Baffinland was accurately conveying the effects of the current operation compared to what the communities were actually experiencing.

NIRB cited testimony from Inuit and community organizations who felt that Baffinland and regulatory agencies had “failed to meaningfully consider and apply Inuit knowledge and experience to address this uncertainty.”

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The board also heard how there were gaps between what the Inuit were experiencing in terms of the effects of the mine and how Baffinland was responding to those concerns, if at all.

In particular, the board noted the problem of dust spread around the Milne Inlet mine and harbor, and changes in narwhal and seal populations along shipping lanes since the mine opened.

“Inuit knowledge shared with the board by knowledge holders in Pond Inlet, indicated that these effects are changing their ability/willingness to camp, fish, hunt and pick berries in the red dust affected areas and are also changing the timing, location, and levels of effort required to capture narwhals and seals,” the press release read.

“Communities indicated that such changes are threatening food security and creating cultural losses for which communities cannot be compensated. Citing communities’ concerns regarding these potential negative effects, Inuit organizations and most Community Controllers did not support the proposal.

The issue of iron dust levels around Baffinland and the harbor at Milne Inlet has been a recurring concern raised by the Inuit. During a February 2021 trip CBC News took to Milne Inlet, the dust was so prevalent that it formed red icicles at the base of snowmobiles. Baffinland has sought to curb dust levels in the port and has promised additional dust mitigation measures under the Inuit Certainty Agreement. (Nick Murray/CBC News)

economic impacts

In its press release, the board also acknowledged the loss of economic benefits that Phase 2 would have promised, including $2.4 billion in royalties, as well as the possibility that the future of the mine is in jeopardy without the expansion.

“Many residents of the affected communities also expressed the view that the potential positive socioeconomic benefits of the proposal center around financial benefits, while the negative socioeconomic effects center around effects on land use, harvesting, culture and food safety that cannot be compensated with money,” NIRB said.

“Due to various factors, including education, training, labor market and demographics, some of which are beyond the control of the proponent, uncertainty remains as to whether the full scale of the proposed benefits can be delivered, and questions remain about the Inuit recruitment and Inuit employment measure that can be delivered by Phase 2.”


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