On Jan. 31, Baffinland Iron Mines filed its closing statement to the Nunavut Impact Review Board in support of its proposed phase two expansion of the Mary River Mine.

The proposed timeline for the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) to reach its decision and forward findings to the federal minister of Northern Affairs was 45 days from Baffinland’s closing statement being submitted. However, due to the “overwhelming’”quantity of information to digest, the regulatory body concluded an additional 60 days is required.

An extensive record of technical reviews, community information sessions, public hearings, roundtables and conferences stretching back to late 2018 must be navigated.

Covid-19 has also played a role in slowing down the timeline. The cancellation of planned in-person meetings, transition to modified practices and measures and limitations on travel all played a role in this extension.

Among the highlights in Baffinland’s closing statement are plenty of commitments, including iron ore dust mitigation measures, chief of which hinge on the approval of a 110-kilometre railway from the mine site to Milne Inlet. There are increases planned to Inuit-led monitoring and to help fund a Qikiqtani Inuit Association Inuit Stewardship Plan and Inuit Committees, as well as plans for three new Inuit-staffed wildlife monitoring stations.

Baffinland says the monitoring stations will create 24 new jobs for Inuit, they also highlighted the existing economic opportunities presented to residents of north Qikiqtani, with as many as 75 people from Pond Inlet and 80 from Sanirajak working at Mary River.

In an email to Nunavut News Baffinland says it has made commitments “that will see employment from five impacted communities increase by over 200 per year” for the first three years of Phase Two.

Bernard Choquette of Iqaluit, quoted by Baffinland in its closing statement, said there are “over 300 Inuit working at the mine.” Baffinland has committed $1.5 million annually for Inuit training for the 17 years that the mine is expected to remain in production.

In total, royalties to Inuit are “conservatively estimated at $2.4 billion,” if phase two is approved.

The Government of Nunavut is in line to receive $680 million in taxes and payments while the Government of Canada stands to collect $1.7 billion in revenue.

The mine is projected to add $30 billion to the Canadian economy’s gross domestic product over its lifespan.

Commodity prices for iron ore continue to be strong, reaching over $200 a tonne in July 2021. As of Feb. 8, it sat at $148 per tonne.

The mining company also noted in its closing statement that a majority of hamlets in north Baffin said the phase two expansion should be approved.

“Baffinland recognizes the time devoted to reviewing the project proposal and participating in the assessment, and is especially grateful to the north Baffin communities,” the summary reads.

Request for comment was made to the hamlets of Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay but no response was received as of press deadline.

Lingering environmental concerns

Support in those two communities has not been unanimous. In February 2021, a group of residents from Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay known as the Nuluujaat Land Guardians set up a blockade at the mine’s airstrip and tote road. The protesters were opposed to the increased shipping proposed by Baffinland, due to the potential effects on the landscape and wildlife.

The blockade ended in an injunction that caused the protesters to leave Mary River Mine, or face being detained by the RCMP.

Also opposed to the phase two expansion on environmental grounds is Oceans North, who has noted a 50 per cent decline in the narwhal population since the mine opened around Milne Inlet, the site from which iron ore is shipped overseas.

“It’s probably safe to say we don’t even fully appreciate and understand the problem yet,” said Chris Debicki, vice-president of policy development with Oceans North, “Baffinland has pointed to other potential causes to the 50 per cent decline in narwhal, but there are a lot of unanswered questions with respect to what’s going on in the narwhal population.”

An effective monitoring system from Baffinland “has yet to be developed,” noted Debicki, who adds the most reliable information Oceans North gets is from local harvesters and not from Baffinland.

NIRB is expected to file its final recommendations by Friday, May 13.

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