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NIRB to resolve stalemate over Baffinland hearings

Setting a date to resume public hearings for Baffinland Iron Mines’ phase two expansion proposal has the parties at loggerheads.

“A delay in the public hearing past 2020, let alone indefinitely, will greatly increase the risk of the Baffinland experiencing catastrophic damages,” Baffinland Iron Mines has stated in regards to the potential for extensive ongoing delays in its phase two regulatory review.
photo courtesy of Baffinland Iron Mines

Mayors and hunters and trappers chairs in Pond Inlet, Iglulik, Sanirajak, Arctic Bay and Clyde River are jointly requesting that the hearings only resume when face-to-face meetings are once again possible.

Resuming before then would be “a breach of procedural fairness owed to our residents and members,” the mayors and HTO chairs state in a July 31 letter to the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB).

Baffinland CEO Brian Penney recommended a date of Oct. 30 for the restart of two weeks of public hearings. He outlined the serious implications that pushing back the timeline further could have on the mining company.

Baffinland is “particularly sensitive to seasonal sealift constraints and construction methodologies, where a one-month delay in the review can and will likely delay the project by as much as a year, inflicting disproportional harm to Baffinland, should the phase two proposal be approved,” Penney wrote to NIRB on July 24.

“Delaying the recommencement of the public hearings would be a breach of procedural fairness ... further delay in process is likely to have significant consequences and will impact Baffinland’s ability to fulfill its many obligations to contractors, employees, communities and other stakeholders.”

In a subsequent statement from Baffinland sent to Nunavut News by a company spokesperson, there was mention of waning investor confidence and the testing of the company’s “financial integrity” with each month of uncertainty that passes.

“What is certain is that there is a breaking point, and a delay in the public hearing past 2020, let alone indefinitely, will greatly increase the risk of the Baffinland experiencing catastrophic damages,” the statement reads.

When the hearings were suspended in early November, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated President Aluki Kotierk said she’d prefer to see the hearings postponed for eight months to a year, but that was prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Minister supports Baffinland’s timing

David Akeeagok, Nunavut’s minister of mines and economic development, told Nunavut News last week that the Government of Nunavut is supportive of Baffinland’s motion to reconvene the hearings in late October.

“Ultimately, our government defers to the Nunavut Impact Review Board about an appropriate timeframe for next steps, and hopes all parties and communities can come to agreement on how to proceed,” Akeeagok stated, adding that the GN has worked collaboratively with Baffinland over the past several months to resolve all the issues that the territorial government had raised when the hearings began.

Ken Armstrong, president of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, encourages all stakeholders to keep talking and find a resolution.

“From the outside – to me, anyway – it sure looks like the NIRB is trying to do that,” Armstrong said.

Meanwhile, Tununiq MLA David Qamaniq said he backs the five impacted communities in holding the line for face-to-face meetings. Qamaniq cited a September 2018 letter from federal Crown–Indigenous Relations minister Carolyn Bennett and then-federal minister Dominic LeBlanc that characterized the importance of meeting with community groups about the monitoring of Baffinland activities.

“The ministers also encourage the board (NIRB) to host an annual marine monitoring and marine mitigation workshop in the community of Pond Inlet. Such a workshop would allow the direct involvement of the community in the review of project monitoring data,” the letter read, in part.

Qamaniq said it would only be proper to hold meetings in the communities.

“They’re not doing that right now and they’re trying, it seems, to get approval as fast as they can,” he said.

Virtual component

NIRB plans to “issue its ruling as soon as practicable,” stated Karen Costello, NIRB’s executive director.

She noted that NIRB has considered modifications to its conventional in-person meeting processes due to Covid-19 public health requirements. NIRB meetings have previously been held in Pond Inlet with video and audio links available to other communities “and these types of modifications may also be considered for the future continuation of the public hearing,” Costello said.

Baffinland endorses that approach.

“We believe NIRB has suggested a format that can take advantage of both in-person and virtual platforms, which will allow parties to engage and share information and we hope we have the opportunity to meet soon to achieve this outcome,” the company stated.

Baffinland currently has approval from federal ministers to continue mining six million tonnes of iron ore until Dec. 31, 2021.

Its phase two expansion proposal would increase mine production to 12 million tonnes, and later to 30 million tonnes transported across a portion of Baffin Island by rail, if permits are granted.