Baffinland's Mary River iron ore project

Baffinland's Mary River iron ore project.

It’s been a year since Baffinland Iron Mines announced changes to its Mary River project. Now a regulatory hurdle that the company had hoped to pass six months ago has evolved into another set of public hearings.

The Nunavut Planning Commission plans to hold oral hearings next week in Clyde River, Grise Fiord, Resolute Bay, Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet.

It’s the first time the NPC will play a lead role in a major environmental review.

"NPC has a very similar role to the one they played before, but they are being a little more active,” says Baffinland’s Greg Missal. “And you know, we'll work with them as much as we possibly can to make sure they get the information they need to fulfill their mandate"

The Nunavut Impact Review Board won't be part of next week's public hearings.

Board officials decided to sit out, after complaining about the planning commission's process, and a lack of communication. But beyond next week's hearings, the NIRB is part of the ongoing review.

NPC process “deviating significantly”: NIRB

While the Nunavut Impact Review Board is responsible for environmental reviews, it’s the job of the Nunavut Planning Commission to first determine whether projects fit with any land use plans in place.

A Nunavut-wide land use plan has been in the works for over a decade, but there is a plan for the North Baffin region that's been in use since 2000.

Five years ago, the Nunavut Planning Commission agreed that the original Mary River project fit within that plan, but they've yet to issue a decision on whether the altered project does.

This summer, Baffinland provided details on its latest plans to the NPC, and requested a timely decision, suggesting June 28 as a suitable date. In a June 28 letter to NIRB, the commission wrote only that "the NPC timeline is not one that other parties are able to influence."

The NPC made several more requests for information from Baffinland before announcing in November, without consulting with NIRB, that it would hold oral hearings into the issue under a new set of its own rules and procedures.

That’s when NIRB announced in a letter that it would not take part in the hearings.

"The board is concerned that the current joint review process is deviating significantly from the previous joint review process for the Mary River project, with no supporting rationale,” wrote NIRB’s executive director, Ryan Barry, in a Nov. 22 letter.

He called the development “regrettable,” noting that, “with no prior discussion, no consultation and no notice the Board has been left in the untenable position of being approached by participants" seeking “explanations regarding the basis and rationale for these significant deviations from the communication process... which the board is unable to provide."

In recent weeks, the NPC has been involved in a flurry of correspondence, part of which involves gathering information previously collected and made public by NIRB.

NPC is now posting documents related to the Baffinland hearings on its website