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Nunavut communities weigh in on Baffinland production increase

Baffinland Iron Mines' request to boost its production again this year at its Mary River mine is getting mixed reaction from some Nunavut communities.

Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet register support for temporary increase again this year at mine

The community of Arctic Bay, Nunavut, in 2019. The hamlet's mayor has written to the Nunavut Impact Review Board saying his community supports the increased production at the Baffinland Mine again this year. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Baffinland Iron Mines' request to boost its production again this year at its Mary River mine is getting mixed reaction from some Nunavut communities.

The request — which, if approved, would allow the company to mine up to six million tonnes of ore from its Mary River mine in 2022 — is now before the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB). And behind the request is a threat, with Baffinland saying more than 1,000 people will be laid off starting next month if it's not approved.

The NIRB is soliciting written comments from communities, Inuit organizations and other stakeholders about whether the request should be granted. Some have already submitted their comments to NIRB ahead of the board's deadline next week.

The hamlet of Pond Inlet, nearest the mine, is in favour, as is the hamlet of Arctic Bay. Both hamlet councils passed motions in July to support the temporary production increase.

"As one of the smaller communities in Nunavut there are not many other opportunities for local employment," Arctic Bay mayor Moses Oyukuluk wrote to the NIRB in June.

"Arctic Bay views Baffinland Mining as a economic benefit to the community in the employment and training of its residents and the donations of funds and equipment to various charitable organizations and sporting groups."

An elder's group in Pond Inlet has also written to the federal minister, citing the mine's benefits to the community. The letter names five people who are part of the group, but it's not clear who else they represent. 

Meanwhile the community of Clyde River, further south on Baffin Island, is speaking out against the temporary production increase, and Baffinland's "last-minute" request. 

Jerry Natanine, Clyde River's senior administrative officer, told CBC his community feels the current production limit of 4.2 tonnes per year is already "too much." And he says Clyde River is not happy with how the mine has been run.

Jerry Natanine, senior administrative officer of Clyde River, says his doesn't support the increased production at the Mary River iron mine, or the proposed expansion project. (Jane George/CBC)

"They don't have good plans for adaptive management. They don't have proper records of current baseline data of sea mammals and the current level of royalties and what the communities are getting or are not getting," Natanine said.

"All these things that we've identified throughout the hearing are still issues that haven't been corrected. I mean, none of them."

In a letter to the NIRB on Wednesday, Clyde River Mayor Alan Cormack also takes issue with the NIRB's timeline for reviewing the production increase. 

"The Hamlet of Clyde River is unable to meaningfully participate in the expedited process NIRB is conducting," he wrote.

"There was only 14 working days between NIRB's formal announcement of the process and the deadline for written comments."

Cormack also says that Baffinland should have submitted its request last year already.

"Instead, the company waited until the very last minute, and now they're trying to force it through a process Clyde River can't really participate in," he wrote.

'No more work to do' once limit is reached

Baffinland was initially given temporary permission in 2018 to increase its annual production to six million tonnes. That was renewed in subsequent years, but expired at the end of 2021.

The company had hoped to have a decision by then on its proposed Phase 2 expansion project — which would increase iron ore production to 12 million tonnes per year — but that proposal is still before the federal minister.

Now, the company says it's nearing its 4.2-million-tonne limit this year, and so will have to halt production within months.

"Once we reach that amount, then we have to stop," Baffinland spokesperson Peter Akman told CBC News. "For the remainder of 2022 we will have no more work to do."

Akman also said the company was unable to apply for the temporary production increase earlier as NIRB rules don't allow two applications for the same project at the same time.

A truck at the Mary River mine site in 2020. Baffinland says it will be forced to lay off more than 1,000 people this fall if its request is not granted. (CBC)

The NIRB decided that another temporary production increase for this year "constitutes a significant modification to the Mary River Project as previously assessed," according to a letter sent to Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal last month. The board decided it therefore warranted a review of the project's original terms and conditions.

The board also acknowledged that time was a big factor. 

Minister Vandal has asked NIRB for a recommendation by Aug. 26, but the board says that's not possible "due to logistical constraints and existing board commitments." 

"However, the Board remains committed to completing the reconsideration as expeditiously as possible," NIRB wrote to Vandal last month.

The NIRB is collecting technical comments from stakeholders, in writing, until Aug. 11. That will be followed by a community roundtable session in Pond Inlet on Aug. 16.

Baffinland will then have a few more days — until Aug. 19 — to submit its final reply to the written submissions and the community roundtable discussions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Tukker

Features writer

Paul Tukker is a writer and reporter with CBC News in Whitehorse. Before moving to Yukon in 2014, he worked with CBC in Sudbury and Iqaluit. You can reach him at paul.tukker@cbc.ca.

With files from Sarah Krymalowski and Jody Ningeocheak

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