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Baffinland Iron Mines granted land use plan exemption by federal minister

The minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has given Baffinland Iron Mines the green light to take its latest plans — which include 10-months a year of shipping iron ore through Baffin Bay — to the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

Proposal for 10-months-a-year shipping to go to Nunavut Impact Review Board

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

The minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has given Baffinland Iron Mines the green light to take its latest plans — which include almost year-round shipping of iron ore — directly to the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

Baffinland's Mary River iron mining operation is located about 160 kilometres southwest of Pond Inlet, Nunavut.

"At this point there is no reason to believe that the project cannot be assessed and potentially approved, regulated and carried out in a manner that is consistent with the existing and future well-being of the residents and the communities," Bernard Valcourt wrote in a letter to the Nunavut Planning Commission. 

In April, the Nunavut Planning Commission determined that Baffinland's plan to ship iron ore 10 months of the year through Baffin Bay was too disruptive for wildlife and did not conform to the North Baffin Land Use Plan currently in place. 

It asked Baffinland to revise its plans or apply for an exemption from the land use plan. Baffinland chose the latter option. 

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, as well as Oceans North Canada, urged Ottawa to reject the request, saying it would undermine the territory's regulatory process. 

However, Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna and the mayor and council of Pond Inlet backed the company's request for an exemption. 

In the reasons for his decision, Valcourt writes, "In Premier Taptuna's letter to me on May 8, 2015, he stressed the importance of 260 jobs, millions of dollars of wages and benefits, as well as other future benefits that might flow from this project proposal. Premier Taptuna was concerned that any delay may put these benefits at risk."

He added that Baffinland has suggested the economic viability of the existing Mary River project depends on its latest proposal.

"We must consider not only the risks of proceeding but also the risks of not proceeding," he wrote.

It's now up to the Nunavut Impact Review Board to review the environmental and socio-economic impacts of Baffinland's plans. 

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