'Poor management' leading to environmental issues at Nunavut's Baffinland mine, says regulator

There are growing environmental concerns among Nunavut Impact Review Board members about Baffinland Iron Mines' Mary River project.

Nunavut Impact Review Board makes 22 recommendations to Baffinland Iron Mines

An annual monitoring report by the Nunavut Impact Review Board is recommending 22 improvements at Baffinland Iron Mines' Mary River project.

There are growing environmental concerns among Nunavut Impact Review Board members about Baffinland Iron Mine's Mary River project.

An annual monitoring report by the review board is recommending 22 improvements, several resulting from an on-site visit in July that found uncontrolled seepage of water into the tundra from piles of potentially acid-generating waste rock.

A letter dated Nov. 4 from the review board to Wayne McPhee, director of sustainable development at Baffinland, said at its October meeting NIRB members listed concerns including enforcement actions regulators had to take during the past year, the deteriorating relationship between Baffinland and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, and "the number of environmental issues on site appearing to result from poor management practices." 

QIA says Baffinland owes it millions of dollars in royalty payments, as per the Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement — the document which outlines benefits Inuit are to receive for Baffinland using Inuit-owned land.

Mary River is located on north Baffin Island, about 160 kilometres southwest of Pond Inlet, Nunavut. The territory's review board is giving Baffinland 30 days to respond to many of its recommendations.

Wildlife, environment concerns

Several come as the result of missing reports, including blasting management plans on a couple of quarries. Others deal with potential impacts to wildlife and the environment.

The review board wants improved monitoring of fish populations, explanations as to why the company suspended some of its monitoring programs on vegetation, roadside waterfowl and invasive plant species, explanations on how construction could potentially affect marine mammals and baseline information on polar bear monitoring.

A spokesperson for Baffinland says the recommendations largely stem from the company's 2015 annual report, the mine's first year of operation.

"We have since addressed some of the concerns that have been raised," wrote Jason Leite in an email.

"We are reviewing the NIRB recommendations and will continue to work with the North Baffin communities, the NIRB, and the QIA, to refine and improve our environmental management as we continue to develop the Mary River mine site."

Tires piling up

Some of the recommendations, like a note about the number of tires strewn across the mine site, recognize the mine is still in the early years of operations.

The company had agreed used tires would be disposed of on-site in a separate storage area, then eventually shipped off site for disposal. But during the visit in 2016, tires were found stockpiled at different locations around the mine.

Baffinland said it is reviewing its options.

"One of the challenges with this project, I think, is the phased approach that the proponent has chosen to try to undertake in the project's development," said NIRB executive director Ryan Barry.

The project as approved has since been scaled back and Barry says there may be a differing of expectations between the board and the company as to when some management practices should be implemented.

'Poor waste management'

"Overall the board's concerns were in parts about just what they saw was poor waste management practices on the site," Barry said.

QIA declined to comment until it fully reviews the board's recommendations, some of which stem directly from the Inuit organization.

In the review board's letter to McPhee, it writes that QIA feels Baffinand's 2015 annual monitoring report did not provide sufficient data on Inuit employment figures. It wants more information from Baffinland on the housing situation and the migration of Inuit and non-Inuit residents.

In extreme cases, Barry said the board could make adjustments to the project's certificate if it finds the current conditions are not working, though it's unlikely in this case.

"Most of the recommendation are not things that are of an immediate environmental threat," he said.

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