Multibillion-dollar iron mine approved for Baffin Island

The Nunavut Impact Review Board has issued its final report allowing Baffinland's $4-billion Mary River iron project to proceed, with conditions.

Nunavut board's decision comes with close to 200 terms and conditions

A helicopter passes over excavation equipment at the Mary River exploration camp, the site of a proposed iron mine on northern Baffin Island, in 2006 photo. (Vinnie Karetak/Canadian Press)

The Nunavut Impact Review Board issued its final report Friday night allowing Baffinland's Mary River iron project to proceed, with conditions.

The board’s decision is the culmination of a four-year assessment of the project, in which Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation plans to build a massive open-pit mine at its Mary River site about 160 kilometres south of Pond Inlet, Nunavut, along with a railway and port that would allow icebreakers to ship the ore through Arctic waters year-round.

The 17,000-hectare mine will cost about $4 billion to build.

"Obviously NIRB recommended in the direction we were hoping they would," said Baffinland spokesperson Greg Missal. "Now we have to spend a number of days looking at the document and looking at the terms and conditions."

The decision comes with close to 200 terms and conditions, most of them focused on monitoring and minimizing some of the possible negative environmental and social effects of the development.

A wide range of concerns on the project were raised during the final public hearings this summer. They included the mine's potential impact on the North Baffin caribou herd and on archeological sites, the possibility of oil spills in the shipping lane and disruptions to marine wildlife, the availability of training and jobs for Inuit, and the possible social problems that could result from an influx of money into nearby communities.

In Igloolik, one of the closest communities to the proposed mine site, acting mayor Peter Ivalu said the mine will mean jobs but his community is still divided.

"It's about 50-50," he said. "There's still some opposition to the project going ahead."

The board’s report now goes to the federal minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for the final OK, and Baffinland will decide whether it can proceed with the imposed conditions