Baffinland phase 2 hearings resume under shadow of COVID-19

The Nunavut Impact Review Board hearings on Baffinland Iron Mines's phase two expansion resumed in Iqaluit Monday morning, with some participants watching online outside of the official venue.

Nunavut Impact Review Board hearings for Mary River expansion proposal started Monday in Iqaluit

David Irngaut, left, Jacob Malliki, centre, and Solomon Malliki from the hunters and trappers organization in Igloolik sit outside the venue at the Aqsarniit Hotel where the Nunavut Impact Review Board hearings are taking place this week, starting Nov. 1, 2021. (Jane George/CBC)

The Nunavut Impact Review Board sessions on the Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation's phase two expansion resumed in Iqaluit Monday morning at the Aqsarniit Hotel. 

A maximum of 100 participants are allowed to participate in person, including the board, Baffinland staff, intervenors, nominated community representatives and identified media members. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions in place, the meetings are not open to the public.

There are also health measures in place, including mandatory masking, use of hand sanitizer and registration of all people in the meeting venue, said NIRB chairperson Kaviq Kalluraq during her opening statement Monday. Kalluraq referenced the pandemic as "exceptionally challenging" times. 

"Some parties are unable to join us in Iqaluit," Kalluraq acknowledged due to the limitations on the number of participants.

That came as a frustration to three representatives from the hunters and trappers organization — David Irngaut, Jacob Malliki and Solomon Malliki — from Igloolik, Nunavut.

The three, who could not be accommodated in the meeting room, struggled to watch the opening session on a Zoom link outside the meeting venue.

A file image of Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation's Mary River Mine, about176 kilometres outside of Pond Inlet, Nunavut. (Submitted by Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation)

The hearings on the second phase of the Baffinland development were suspended in April following the COVID- 19 outbreak in Iqaluit. At the time, Nunavut's chief public health officer revoked an exemption for the board April 14 to exceed indoor gathering limits while it conducted the hearings.

That meant that the NIRB wasn't able to complete a number of agenda items, including:

  • One day of technical sessions involving Baffinland asking questions and following up with responses to questions of registered intervenors, the board asking questions and consideration of outstanding motions, objections or requests for procedural direction.
  • Four and half days of a community roundtable for the board to hear questions, comments and concerns about the proposal directly from potentially affected communities.
  • Time for closing remarks from the NIRB board, including procedural direction for parties regarding the filing of final written statements following the close of the hearings.

The nine-day hearings back in April were supposed to bring to an end a regulatory process been prolonged by delays and extensions. The delay in proceedings in April also marked a setback for Baffinland, which had hoped to begin gradually ramping up iron ore production over the summer.

In addition to in-person proceedings hosted in Iqaluit, there is now an audio/video link connected to a hub in Pond Inlet to allow residents there to pose questions and share their knowledge with the board from a central public venue.

Kalluraq urged everyone participating in person or online to remain "positive and respectful."

QIA seeks caribou agreement

Among the issues ahead on Monday's agenda is a motion from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA).

Its motion "respectfully" requests that the NIRB order Baffinland and the Government of Nunavut to disclose the caribou research Agreement-in-Principle (AIP) at the hearing and that it be added to the NIRB registry of evidence.

The QIA said in its motion that the Caribou Research AIP constitutes evidence as it addresses an issue of dispute in this hearing, namely about proposed caribou monitoring.

The Mary River expansion, first proposed in 2014, is the largest resource development project currently being proposed in Nunavut. Baffinland wants to double production of the iron ore mine so it can ship 12 million tonnes from Milne Port each year. 

To do that, it plans to build a railway that would run through caribou habitat, and increase shipping in water bodies that are part of Tallurutiup Imanga, or Lancaster Sound. The waters near Milne Port are a primary summer home for the world's largest population of narwhal.

The six days of meetings are set to last until Nov. 6.

With files from Nick Murray