Baffinland Iron Mines' phase 2 plan gets sent back to Nunavut Planning Commission

The Nunavut Impact Review Board says changes Baffinland has made to the proposal since the Nunavut Planning Commission first reviewed it are significant enough to require the commission giving it a second look.

NIRB decision says proposal has significantly changed since planning commission ruled on it last year

The Nunavut Impact Review Board has sent Baffinland Iron Mines' phase 2 proposal for its Mary River project near Pond Inlet back to the Nunavut Planning Commission. (CBC)

The Nunavut Impact Review Board is sending Baffinland's Phase 2 project proposal back to the Nunavut Planning Commission, saying changes the company has made to the proposal since the commission first reviewed it are significant enough to require NPC giving it a second look.

In a letter sent to Baffinland on Monday, NIRB said the company's change in its proposal — to six months a year of shipping with a 110-kilometre railway, instead of the previously proposed 10 months a year of shipping — was a significant enough change from what was before NPC in its conformity decision back in April 2015, that a new decision from NPC is needed.

NIRB's executive director Ryan Barry said the railway was the biggest difference in why the proposal needed to go back to NPC, as it has implications for land and marine use and the long-term effects of the project.

NIRB said that while building a railway alongside an existing road may reduce the potential impact on the land, it still isn't a minor change. Since a railway is now on the table, other stakeholders will need to get involved in the assessment process, like Transport Canada and the Canadian Transportation Agency.

While the decision essentially sends Baffinland's proposal back to square one, Barry said any work done through NIRB's assessment won't need to be redone if the proposal eventually gets back before the board.

"Baffinland had been working on its environmental impact statement for some months now, and we understand they've made significant progress in that area," Barry said. 

"So our feeling was that the work that's been undertaken to date by the company to prepare information and to participate in our process is certainly not all for naught. All of that will be considered and brought forward into a future assessment."

The Nunavut Planning Commission has 45 days to issue a new conformity decision on the revised proposal.

Ministerial exemption void

Two years ago, Baffinland pitched its Phase 2 proposal, asking to amend its project certificate to allow the company to ship ore 10 months a year, up from five. 

In April 2015, NPC said Baffinland's project proposal for 10-month shipping was too disruptive to wildlife habitat and thus didn't conform with the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan. 

Baffinland was granted a ministerial exemption in July 2015 by then-federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, and the proposal went on to NIRB for assessment.

But Baffinland changed its proposal last February, pitching a railway to move iron ore north from its Mary River mine to a port in Milne Inlet.

Baffinland's current project certificate allows it to build a railway from Mary River, but to a port south of the mine in Steensby Inlet. The certificate only allows for a road to go to Milne Inlet, which is what the company is using to move its ore. 

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association suggested NIRB needed to check on whether the amended proposal needed to go back to NPC. NIRB also checked with incoming federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett to see if the minister's exemption was still valid given the change, and Bennett left it in NIRB's hands.

The company argued it wasn't a big enough change to merit, essentially, a restart of the regulatory process.

But in its decision on Monday, NIRB disagreed. With the decision, the ministerial exemption is also voided.

CBC News was unable to reach Baffinland Iron Mines or the Nunavut Planning Commission for comment.


Nick Murray is a CBC reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He got his start with CBC in Fredericton after graduating from St. Thomas University's journalism program. He's also worked three Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports. You can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickMurray91.


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