North

Baffinland abandons plans for 10-month shipping from Milne Inlet

Baffinland Iron Mines has decided not to pursue its request for 10-month shipping from Milne Inlet. The controversial proposal had Nunavut hunters worried over access to hunting grounds.

Company cites community concerns for changing its stance

A view of Baffinland Iron Mine's camp at Milne Inlet in Nunavut in August 2014. (Baffinland)

Baffinland Iron Mines is abandoning its plans for 10-month shipping from its Milne Inlet port near Pond Inlet, Nunavut.

In an update sent to the Nunavut Impact Review Board on Wednesday, the company said it was listening to community concerns and would remove its request to seek approval for shipping from June to March, as part of its larger proposal to triple the mine's capacity.

"In response to community input, Baffinland will make every effort to ship ore during the open water season," the report reads.

"Baffinland has listened to the communities and has committed to optimize shipping though open water and remove the request to seek approval to ship during critical months identified by the communities."

The company is still looking to extend its shipping season, though. Right now the project certificate allows the company to ship from June to October, but Baffinland wants to ship from July 1 to Dec. 31.

Still, the contentious months concerning many hunters in Pond Inlet were in the winter and spring, when hunters use the sea ice to access hunting grounds for food. Hunters were worried breaking the ice through the Eclipse Sound would make it volatile to travel on and cut them off from said hunting grounds.

"I'm pleasantly surprised and pleasantly shocked of the news that you just conveyed to me," Tununiq MLA Joe Enook said when contacted by CBC News.

"It seems at least, that Baffinland is trying to listen to the community of Pond Inlet, and have listened to our concerns about shipping year round. Now, I've known about this for about five minutes, so let me read the report and everything else that comes with it. But initially I am pleasantly surprised."

Baffinland Iron Mines has decided not to pursue its request for 10-month shipping from Milne Inlet. (CBC)

The company says since submitting its initial proposal in 2014, it's gained experience on how to operate the mine, and learned a lot about community concerns.

"If we hadn't have made any changes in two years time, and obviously we would have liked it if the process moved a lot faster than this, well we wouldn't have been doing our job and we wouldn't have been listening to the communities," said Todd Burlingame, Baffinland's vice-president of sustainable development.

"In the last two years, we haven't just been sitting on our hands. We've been sharpening our pencils and trying to come up with a better project, and I believe we have."

Ministerial exemption still valid, Baffinland argues

While Baffinland has dropped its request for 10-month shipping, it's still seeking approval for its railway plans as part of its Phase 2 proposal. The company argues its ministerial exemption from former Indigenous Affairs minister Bernard Valcourt is still valid, because this latest update doesn't constitute a big change in their plans, and calls for less disruption. 

In April 2015, the Nunavut Planning Commission rejected Baffinland's proposal for 10-month a year shipping saying it was too disruptive to wildlife. It asked the company to revise its plan, or apply for a ministerial exemption from the North Baffin Land Use Plan.

Baffinland chose the latter, and was granted its exemption by Valcourt to take its proposal straight to the NIRB.

But when Baffinland made its railway pitch in February 2016, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association suggested that NIRB needed to check on whether the new pitch constituted a big enough change to warrant a new ruling by the Nunavut Planning Commission, thus restarting the process.

Incoming Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett essentially left the decision in NIRB's hands, and NIRB asked for Baffinland to give an update to its proposal — which came on Wednesday, rolling back the shipping request. Baffinland says that's still not enough of a change to their plans to restart the process.

"What we've tried to say in this update is it scopes down the overall project, as opposed to scoping it up," Burlingame said.

The next step in the process is NIRB will have to make a ruling on whether the railway pitch from February is a significant enough change from the proposal to need to go back before the Nunavut Planning Commission.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Murray is a CBC reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He got his start with CBC in Fredericton after graduating from St. Thomas University's journalism program. He's also worked three Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports. You can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickMurray91.

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