The mayors of Igloolik and Hall Beach, previously opposed to a planned port at Steensby Inlet for the Mary River Iron Ore project, now say they would not object to it if the communities were compensated.

"I'll want to work with them directly to ensure people of Hall Beach benefit directly with Baffinland, not through QIA (Qikiqtani Inuit Association)," said Hall Beach Mayor Ammie Kipsigak, speaking in Inuktitut.

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The mayors of Igloolik and Hall Beach say they would not oppose the construction of a port at Steensby Inlet if Baffinland Iron Mines pays for projects such as fish plants or housing in the communities. (CBC file)

"QIA and NTI (Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.) will be giving a bit of royalty money to our community, but we will want direct benefits. For example, a meat processing plant or a fish plant and they would pay."

Paul Quassa, acting mayor of Igloolik, said his community is asking Baffinland for new houses and paved roads, as well as a fish plant.

"They should give us a fish plant so that we can utilize the hundred thousand pounds of commercial fishery that is available in Steensby."

In a letter sent Oct. 4 to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, Quassa wrote that people in Igloolik "continue to express grave reservations over the Steensby site [but] many are at least willing to consider what benefits might accrue directly to our community if it becomes clear the proposed port site cannot be avoided."

Hearings in Igloolik, Pond Inlet

The board is holding hearings in Igloolik and Pond Inlet this week on the Mary River project. Baffinland wants to develop a mine at the high-grade iron ore property, about 160 kilometres south of Pond Inlet, Nunavut, on northern Baffin Island.

The company is proposing to transport iron ore by rail, twice a day, from the Mary River property to a port in Steensby Inlet. From there, icebreakers would ship the ore year-round to steel mills in Europe.

Leaders in Igloolik, Hall Beach and Pond Inlet generally support the project but had objected to the planned port at Steensby Inlet. The area is flush with wildlife and archeological sites, and has been used by Inuit for millenia. Baffinland has said it might be impossible or at least too expensive to re-route the planned railway.

Greg Missal, vice-president of Baffinland Iron Mines, said the company is negotiating a Inuit Impact and Benefits Agreement (IIBA) with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association. He said communities should receive benefits from that agreement with the QIA.

Baffinland working with QIA

"We'll definitely be working with the QIA through the IIBA to make sure that those communities see some benefits flow through them," said Greg Missal, vice-president of Baffinland Iron Mines.

The agreement between Baffinland and the QIA has not been finalized but it's estimated that more than $2 billion in royalties and perks could flow to the Inuit organizations.

Deals between individual communities and mining companies are not legislated by the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement but the agreement does require companies to negotiate Inuit Impacts and Benefits Agreements with regional Inuit organizations. Quassa said he believes a side deal is appropriate in this case.

In an interview with CBC last month QIA President Okalik Eegeesiak said, "If it has to be Steensby, then talk to the communities directly impacted by Steensby, and see how it might go ahead with their community concerns addressed."

with files from Neville Crabbe