Nunavut environmental board rejects motion to suspend mine hearings

The Nunavut Impact Review Board says a financial document — meant for investors — isn’t relevant to ongoing public hearings for the Mary River Mine.

Baffinland financials are confidential, regulatory board tells marine activists

Oceans North policy and legal head Christopher Debicki says Baffinland is being dishonest with Nunavummiut about how much iron ore it wants to ship out of the Mary River mine. (Beth Brown/CBC )

The Nunavut Impact Review Board says a financial document meant for investors isn't relevant to ongoing public hearings for the Mary River mine.

On Sunday in Iqaluit, the regulatory board ruled against a motion made by Oceans North to suspend those hearings.

The hearings are part of a lengthy assessment by the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) into plans for the so-called phase two expansion of the Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation Mary River iron ore mine. The mine first shipped iron ore in 2015. The motion came on Saturday, the first day of the hearings, which will span two weeks in Iqaluit and Pond Inlet.

According to Oceans North, an environmental non-government organization, a financial document shows Baffinland isn't being honest with the review board, or with Nunavummiut, about its hopes to triple production at the mine in future expansions.

Oceans North wanted that document posted on the review board's public registry, and, said the hearings should be stalled while all parties have time to look at this new information.

"What this document shows is that Baffinland was describing to investors an intention to increase shipping out of Milne Inlet by more than 300 per cent," said Christopher Debicki, vice president of policy for Oceans North.

"It's inconsistent with what they've told the public through the NIRB process and it's unfortunate that the document won't go in and inform the board," he said. 

Oceans North is not against the mine, but a "massive expansion" in shipping could endanger marine life and the security of harvesters, he said.

But Baffinland's legal advisor Brad Armstrong said the confidential document obtained by Oceans North, is "clear and transparent" about current plans to expand the mines output from six million to 12 million tonnes of iron ore.

He called it "perfectly sensible" to be looking in to the future and said sharing financials publicly will jeopardize the mine. He said the "detailed financial document" is outside of Ocean North's expertise.  The company instead offered to share the financials privately with the board.

Acting chair for the Nunavut Impact Review Board Kaviq Kaluraq says the Baffinland documents Oceans North wants to post on the NIRB public registry are confidential. (Beth Brown/CBC )

The NIRB dismissed the motion by Oceans North and ruled that the document in question is "a confidential document that was not widely or publicly available and should not be posted on the boards public registry."

The mine's financial communications and "forward looking expansion plans" are not relevant or helpful to the board to assess the phase two Mary River project, NIRB's acting chair Kaviq Kaluraq told a packed crowd at the Iqaluit cadet hall.

If Baffinland did want to expand, she said the NIRB would have to do another review. 

Communities still question the mine 

The Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization says it wants to know more about the financial viability of the mine.

The company said at the hearing that expansion, which includes a railway and icebreaking, is required to see the mine succeed.  

"We have seen limited evidence to support that," the Pond Inlet hunters and trappers technical advisor, Amanda Hanson Main said.  

Hearings for the Mary River phase 2 project are going ahead in Iqaluit and Pond Inlet until next week. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Inuit communities should be given the same information as potential investors, and failure to do that undermines Inuit trust, a technical advisor for the Hamlet of Pond Inlet Frank Tester said. 

The Hamlet of Pond Inlet will give its presentation to the environmental review board on Tuesday. The board approved the hamlet's own motion to have an independent economist report on the mine's financial situation.

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) said it can't support the phase two mine expansion right now, because community concerns are unresolved. 

"There are significant potential impacts from the construction of a rail system, particularly where they travel, harvest caribou and exercise culture practices,"  the Baffin Inuit organization told the review board, in a letter dated Nov. 1.  

"QIA's board of directors unanimously voted against endorsing the mine's phase two proposal for the time being."

The hearings in Iqaluit will wrap up on Wednesday, and continue in Pond Inlet starting Friday.