Baffinland Iron Mines is making good on its promise to remove equipment from the Mary River mine site that was to be used as part of the phase two expansion project.

One shipment of that equipment has already departed for the south and three more loads are expected to be completed this shipping season, according to Heather Smiles, Baffinland’s manager of stakeholder relations.

The mining company chose to demobilize the equipment because it was idle and Baffinland was “incurring significant costs” since the suspension of the regulatory permitting process and subsequent delays in 2019, Smiles stated.

However, the iron ore miner remains committed to the phase two project, she added. Regulatory hearings through the Nunavut Impact Review Board are scheduled to resume in November after COVID-19 public health protocols disrupted the hearings in April.

“The company has been clear that continuing to operate Mary River (mine) in its current state as a trucking operation is simply not sustainable,” said Smiles. “Without the phase two expansion, our future is uncertain and our business is at risk.”

She noted that most iron miners around the globe use rail to transport iron ore because it’s cleaner, greener, and more economical — and adding a 110-kilometre railway is part of Baffinland’s future aspirations. The proposed expansion at the Mary River mine, 160 km south of Pond Inlet, would double output to 12 million tonnes.

“We are doing what is necessary to reduce costs and prepare for a care and maintenance situation,” Smiles stated. “The company has been clear that it is incurring a high capital cost due to the continued uncertainty of the future expansion proposal and volatile ore prices. We have been fortunate that ore prices have remained high in recent years, enabling us to continue operating while going through the phase two process. However, ore prices are historically cyclical and cannot be relied upon for stability. The proposed expansion provides certainty.”

Baffinland is aiming to ship six million tonnes of iron ore this year, by mid-October. The resource is sent to markets in Europe and Asia. The first ships traversed Milne Inlet on July 26 — without the need of icebreakers — after the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization (MHTO) closed to floe edge to harvesting activity.

Enookie Inuarak, who was selected as chair of the MHTO several weeks ago, said he had no comment on Baffinland’s actions at this time.

Pond Inlet Mayor Joshua Arreak said the hamlet’s relationship is no worse than it has been in the past, but he wouldn’t say more.

Meanwhile, Nunavummiut employees began to resume work at the mine site on July 26 after almost a year and a half away from Mary River to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 to the communities. A snag came on Aug. 10 when a case of the coronavirus was confirmed in a mine worker and at least one Nunavummiuq staff member was forced to isolate due to being a close contact.

Overall, Baffinland expects to welcome back more than 200 workers and contractors to the mine site now that COVID-19 restrictions have eased in the territory, according to Smiles.

“Not all Inuit employees and contractors are based in Nunavut and those who are based elsewhere have been able to continue actively working throughout the pandemic,” she stated.

Preparation sessions relating to health and safety measures and job refreshers are being provided to the mine’s workforce both in communities and on site to ensure they are ready for changes to daily life that have occurred on site due to COVID-19, Smiles added.

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