For several years, Baffinland Iron Mines has been trying to get permission for a railway and an extended shipping season for its Mary River mine — it's still trying and hunters in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, are still opposed.

The mining company's most recent proposal to the Nunavut Planning Commission was closed for public comments at the beginning of October and respondents are still wary of both elements of the revised plan.

In this iteration, Baffinland is looking for approval to build an 110-kilometre railway along the existing roadway, which connects the mine site to the Milne Inlet port site. It was also looking to extend the shipping season through to February by icebreaking. 

M-V Nunavik at Deception Bay

Baffinland says it wants to extend its shipping season to include the months of December, January and February.

Both the hamlet and the Pond Inlet Hunters and Trappers Organization (HTO) say the proposed activities will negatively affect the wildlife in the area.

In its submission to the Nunavut Planning Commission, the HTO said the ice the company wishes to break is consistently in use by the community throughout those dark months.

It says the current level of shipping has already made the narwhal more scarce and it says it is worried about the effect on seals.

"They are our only food source and no one will give us other sources," the HTO said in its submission.

Last year, Baffinland abandoned its proposal to ship 10 months of the year due to community concerns, so now it is only looking to add the months of December, January and February to its shipping season.

However, WWF-Canada says it is concerned the proposal contains no limits on the type of cargo (freight, ore, or fuel) or the frequency of shipping. The HTO says it doesn't believe the extra time is necessary.

"If they planned well they would not have issues and they would not need to ship during the winter."

In regards to the railway, the HTO says that both people and caribou will have difficulty traversing the high embankments— up to 300 metres, according to WWF-Canada — that would need to be constructed to balance low areas and permafrost protection.

It says the railway would cut off the snowmobile route to Igloolik and cut into caribou calving grounds.

Baffinland amendment map

The 110-kilometre railway will connect the Mary River mine site to the shipping route. (Nunavut Planning Commission)

Public hearing in Pond Inlet

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association suggested holding a public hearing in Pond Inlet, because the amendment is significant enough to warrant more feedback than the current written submissions.

"Given the level of community and public concern expressed regarding the proposed amendment, it would be inappropriate for the Commissioners to make any final determinations without hearing directly from the residents of Pond Inlet," it said.

In its response to the submissions, Baffinland asks that should the Nunavut Planning Commission decide a public hearing is necessary, that it make the arrangements quickly and limit discussion to these plan amendments and directly affected entities.