North

Baffinland proposes changing Mary River project's shipping road to a railway

The mining company says it is re-evaluating how it will transport ore from the Mary River mine site and will need more time to draft its Environment Impact Statement.

Phase 2 environment impact statement postponed to September

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association's board of directors review Baffinland's latest letter to the Nunavut Impact Review Board and ask questions about the QIA's plans to inform the communities about this week's news. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

Baffinland Iron Mines is proposing another change to its Mary River project on north Baffin Island — this time a decision to build a railway — which will delay the submission of its phase 2 environmental impact statement by several months. 

Oliver Curran, the company's director of sustainable development, sent a letter to the Nunavut Impact Review Board Wednesday outlining its decision to re-evaluate how it will transport ore from the mine site to Milne Inlet. 

"By way of our alternatives assessment, Baffinland has determined the incorporation of a railway is an integral facet of the Phase 2 proposal due to a number of environmental, technical and economic benefits," Curran wrote. 

The company did not explicitly say why it considers using rail a better transportation method than using trucks along the tow road.

Baffinland's Milne Inlet camp. The first load of iron ore was shipped out of Baffinland Iron Mines' Mary River site last year. The company has made several changes to its plans since it began the project, some of them controversial. (Baffinland)

Baffinland is currently going through the NIRB process for its phase 2 proposal, which includes a controversial plan to ship ore out of Milne Inlet for 10 months every year — a process which would mean breaking up ice near Pond Inlet.

QIA board reflects on changes

Justin Buller, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association's assistant director for major projects, and Enookie Inuarak, a member at large with the QIA executive, explained the letter at a public board of directors meeting in Iqaluit Thursday.

Baffinland had expected to file an environmental impact statement to the Nunavut Impact Review Board this April. Now, it doesn't expect to complete that document until September. 

"After that there will be a period of comments and information requests that can go back and forth between the company and other stakeholders," said Buller. 

Baffinland Iron Mines sent a letter to NIRB Wednesday saying it is re-evaluating how it will transport ore over land from the mine site to port. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

Then there will be technical meetings and public hearings, as part of the NIRB process, but Buller doesn't expect that will happen now until early 2017.

"I don't expect that we'll have much more information from the company until then, but you never know. They've changed the project many times before."

No changes to 10-month shipping proposal

Buller and Inuraq say this change does not reflect a change of heart from Baffinland regarding its plans for 10-month shipping. 

In Inuktitut, Inuraq said Baffinland has not said when it will move forward with work on Mary River, as the company has "indicated that they are lacking financial resources."

It also appears that the company will still send ore south to Steensby Inlet, as well as north to Milne Inlet.

"Right now they're permitted to transport 18-million tonnes from Mary River to Steensby and they're permitted to move 4.2-million tonnes from Mary River to Milne. They're proposing to increase that amount from 4.2 to 12," he said.

"They haven't said that they're planning to move all of it North."

Buller says, while Baffinland hasn't explicitly stated this, it is also looking to expand the port to accommodate larger ships.

That way "they don't have to ship as many times and they don't have to use the trans-shipping method where one ship offloads its cargo to another ship," he said.

"It makes the project more efficient." 
Enookie Inuarak, a member at large for the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, and Justin Buller, assistant director for QIA's department of major projects, explained Baffinland's most recent change to its Mary River project on Thursday. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

Inuit organization looks to communities

Last November, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association visited the five affected North Baffin communities to find out what local Inuit want to know about the project. 

"Typically what we're trying to do ... is understand community concerns, potential impacts, worries, opinions, and pull that into a QIA position so that QIA can then advocate for beneficiaries."

Community directors expressed concerns about the many changes with the project and the potential effects of this latest development. 

"Where do we draw the line?" Abraham Qammaniq, Hall Beach's community director, said in Inuktitut. "They're not thinking of the land. They're not thinking of the people." 

Other board members wondered if there would now be fewer jobs available for local Inuit. 

"There's a good chance that operating the railway would reduce the number of truck driver positions available for Inuit in the region," said Buller. "But, there's also the trade-off that people would be needed to build the railway."

President PJ Akeeagok said it was too early for the association to have an official opinion on this latest change.

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association is planning to create a public service announcement to explain the changes and hold more radio call-in shows to gauge opinions, before formulating a position.

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