Baffinland Iron Mines has won the go-ahead to proceed with a considerably scaled down version of its proposed iron mine on North Baffin Island.

In December of 2012, Baffinland was approved to move 18 million tonnes of iron ore each year, shipping it first by rail to the west coast of Baffin Island, then by ships that would travel year round through  the ice-choked waters of Foxe Basin to markets in Europe.

Just weeks after winning approval for the plan, Baffinland changed it, proposing a phased approach that would move about 3.5 million tonnes of ore per year using an existing road and port on the eastern side of Baffin Island, and citing the poor economy as a reason for doing so.

Baffinland map

Baffinland originally wanted to ship 18 million tonnes of iron ore from its Mary River mine site to Steensby Port and through Foxe Basin. It now hopes to ship a smaller amount of ore through Milne Inlet on the eastern side of Baffin Island. (Baffinland)

To accommodate the change of the plans, the Nunavut Impact Review Board modified 44 of its initial 182 terms and conditions for the mine and added eight new ones.

In a letter to the Nunavut Impact Review Board today, Bernard Valcourt, minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, accepted most of those changes, modifying nine and rejecting one.

Term #179 would have limited the mine to extracting 18 million tonnes of ore per year, even though the company’s stated ultimate goal is to add the ore hauled from Milne Inlet to the 18 million tonnes shipped through Steensby Inlet.

The Minister writes that this condition “is more onerous than necessary,” and that the review board has not given good reason to impose the limit.

The chair of the Nunavut Impact Review Board, Elizabeth Copland, says the board will now issue a new Project Certificate.

They’ll hold discussions by teleconference next month before doing that. 

Nunavut Planning Commission process still in play

However, one step in the process is still not over.

The Nunavut Planning Commission has yet to confirm whether the project fits within the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan, a step that is usually the first for mining projects undergoing environmental review in the territory.

The NPC held public hearings into the issue and proposed two changes to the plan to accommodate the mine.

Valcourt accepted one of those: an amendment to create a Milne Inlet Tote Road and Marine Transportation Corridor.

However, the minister rejected a proposed change that would create a transportation corridor for use by Mary River only.

In a letter to the planning commission, ​Valcourt says his main concern is that the corridor would be restricted to a single user and a single use. "This approach is at odds with key principles found in the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan and general land use plan approaches."

In the same letter, Valcourt says there were other issues with the text of the rejected proposal, and that more detailed comments on the proposed amendment will be forthcoming.