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Timeline unclear for stalled Mary River environmental hearing

It is unclear when hearings for a stalled environmental review of the long-fraught expansion of the Mary River Mine will go ahead.   

Community and technical meetings will start in March

The Nunavut Impact Review Board says it needs to hold technical and community meetings before it can schedule a final environmental hearing for a rail and shipping expansion at the Mary River Mine. Acting chair for the Nunavut Impact Review Board Kaviq Kaluraq speaks at an Iqaluit hearing for the phase two project in November. (Beth Brown/CBC )

It is unclear when hearings for a stalled environmental review of the long-fraught expansion of the Mary River Mine will go ahead.

The Nunavut Impact Review Board announced on Tuesday last week that final hearings are on hold for "several months" for Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation's phase two project to double production at the North Baffin iron ore mine near Pond Inlet. 

The expansion would include a railway and increased shipping.

The review board said it will instead hold in-person technical meetings with Baffinland and communities impacted by the mine, followed by a pre-hearing conference for those Qikiqtaaluk communities. 

Those meetings are scheduled for sometime in March, though dates and times are not set. 

The board said these preliminary gatherings will help it to decide if and when actual final hearings for the expansion will be. 

This all comes after a two week hearing for the project was adjourned in November. That was supposed to be the final hearing for the phase two expansion project, but one week in to the hearings the group was still on the first day of the agenda. 

That's after a series of motions were made to suspend the hearings or bring new information into the review.  

The hearings were then put on hold when Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. motioned to see the hearings adjourned for nearly a year. That was so communities could better review all the documents and so new information could be translated.

Financial problems, layoffs 

But Baffinland said, in a recent written submission, that if the hearings don't happen by this spring, the mine will face financial problems. 

"There will likely be further constraints to the Mary River Mine and serious negative consequences for Nunavut's economy as well as Baffinland's workforce if the adjournment is, as certain parties have advocated, any later than mid-May 2020," Baffinland said. 

After the hearings were adjourned, Baffinland laid off nearly 600 contracted workers connected to work for the expansion. Almost 100 of those workers were Inuit. 

In a letter to the review board, the Nunavut based contractor Nuna East LTD. said it sent several heavy equipment training simulators to the mine on the summer sealift, in hopes of increasing employment training for Nunavummiut at Mary River for the phase two project. 

The review board said it understands the delay has "significant financial and employment implications to Baffinland and the affected communities."

But also said it can't hold final environmental hearings until communities are comfortable. Right now there is uncertainty, gaps in information, and an overall public mistrust in or misunderstanding of the review process, the board said. 

The review board is also looking into Baffinland's application to keep mining six million tonnes of iron ore each year.

While the mine is looking to double that production with the phase two expansion, a current allowance of six million tonnes expires at the end of December.

The board plans to make a decision on that extension by the end of February. 

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Baffinland's Phase 2 proposal would include winter shipping. The proposal does not include winter shipping.
    Dec 24, 2019 10:01 AM CT

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