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Clyde River mayor braces for legal action over iron mine expansion

Jerry Natanine prevailed in a high-profile 2017 Supreme Court case to prevent offshore seismic testing, and he says he’s prepared to use the legal system again, if necessary, to stop Baffinland Iron Mines from building a railway.

“Absolutely, I’m prepared to go to court,” Natanine says. “They’re just walking all over us.”

“Absolutely, I’m prepared to go to court. They’re just walking all over us,” Clyde River Mayor Jerry Natanine says of Baffinland Iron Mines and the regulatory review for expansion of the Mary River mine, including a proposed 110-km railway. Natanine, seen above in Ottawa, was triumphant in a 2017 Supreme Court case that prevented offshore seismic testing.
photo courtesy of David Kawai/Greenpeace Canada

The mayor’s primary concern is for wildlife, particularly caribou, in relation to the proposed 110-km railroad that would stretch from the Mary River mine to Milne Inlet.

Baffinland is aiming to ramp up production to 12 million tonnes of ore per year, double the existing six million tonnes. Ultimately, the mining company wants to achieve 30 million tonnes in the long-term. The Nunavut Impact Review Board is considering the potential effects of expansion.

During recent technical hearings and community round-table sessions, Baffinland stated that the mine will have “no significant impacts” on caribou, yet the Government of Nunavut’s representatives did not provide any reports or studies that would back up such a claim, according to Natanine.

“They’re not being up front,” he says. “If they had proof, the government would be poring it out to everyone. But they seem to be working behind closed doors and hiding here and there – not directly answering questions.”

Nunavut News asked the Department of Environment to clearly state its position on how mine expansion could affect caribou, to provide any pertinent reports, to specify what studies are planned and what other steps would be taken to assure the health of the herd. A department spokesperson says that a formal response will be provided to Natanine’s letter to the environment minister before any public statements are released.

Megan Lord-Hoyle, Baffinland’s vice-president of sustainable development, states that the company has been “keenly focused” on developing appropriate mitigation measures to ensure no significant impacts occur involving caribou. These measures are based on multiple analyses – including Inuit traditional knowledge – of potential project effects on caribou habitat, mortality, movement and health.

Lord-Hoyle says Baffinland is “actively working with communities, QIA (Qikiqtani Inuit Association) and the Government of Nunavut to develop monitoring programs that will determine the accuracy of our predictions.”

‘It’s devastating’

Natanine says he and other leaders from North Baffin communities have asked Baffinland to consider another inlet other than Milne because of the traditional harvesting done in that area. He says mine officials refused to alter their chosen location.

“Obviously they don’t care about our hunting way of life. They don’t care about Inuit or how we live as long as they get their ore,” the mayor says.

Lord-Hoyle says development of an entirely new transportation corridor to another port location was determined to not be feasible from a technical, economic or environmental perspective. In addition, it would have required amendments to the land-use plan. She gave examples of the company’s flexibility, citing its agreement to avoid a travel corridor between Pond Inlet and Iglulik, a commitment to create embankment slopes to facilitate caribou crossings and its plans to include safe crossings, trails and shelters for land-users.

However, there have already been impacts on wildlife since mining activity and mine construction began close to a decade ago, according to Clyde River’s mayor.

“We’ve heard people from Pond Inlet telling stories of how it used to be before all this shipping came,” Natanine says. “They used to go camping at Milne Inlet, get all their fishing, narwhal hunting and sealing up there. Today when they go up there during the shipping season, there’s nothing. The narwhals they caught were not even edible because they were so skinny. No seals. Hardly any Arctic char at all. It’s devastating. I wouldn’t want other Inuit to be in that situation.”

Although he concedes that the mine has created a “significant” number of jobs for people in his community and generated some funding through the QIA, Natanine insists that the environmental drawbacks from Mary River outweigh any “meagre” perks.

“The risks outweigh the benefits,” he says.