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Baffinland production increase proposal low on info

Lack of information is the message most commenters noted in their submissions to the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) for Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation's production increase proposal for its Mary River Iron Mine. The deadline was July 26.

photo courtesy of Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.
Comments to the Nunavut Impact Review Board on Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.'s production increase proposal show a general dissatisfaction with the level of detail to support the company's claims the increase's effects can be categorized as "not significant."

"Generally, it was found the information provided in the production increase was limited in substance, not providing sufficient information to perform a full review of validity of the impacts predicted by Baffinland," stated the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA).

Specifically, QIA noted there is little evidence to validate predicted impacts on wildlife.

"Specific concerns not addressed by Baffinland are truck traffic, effects on traditional land use, and the increased dustfall from the Tote Road and ore handling," the Inuit organization stated.

It also noted "important gaps exist in the understanding, monitoring, and mitigation of project effects on freshwater and marine environments at existing production levels. These knowledge gaps have not been adequately addressed in the proposal.

"The proposed increase … will increase project effects and the uncertainty surrounding these effects will increase unless these gaps are filled."

The company is seeking to produce and deliver 6 Mt/a (megatonnes per annum) rather than the approved 4.2 Mt/a.

Baffinland wishes to construct a new camp at Milne Inlet and add to its fuel capacity there, to go along with an increase in the amount of ore hauled up the tote road and shipped out during the open water season.

If Baffinland's proposal is approved, 58 ship voyages currently in place would increase by 25 to 83 voyages. (Numbers are approximate.)

In a June letter to NIRB requesting the review process be streamlined, the company warned that it would find itself "in a position of having to idle operations and reduce its workforce for a portion of each year starting in 2018." Because employees had become so efficient, they produced and delivered more iron ore to Milne Port than was initially planned for, the company said.

WWF Canada took issue with Baffinland's position.

"WWF suggests that Baffinland has levied a threat of slowdown that is based on its own noncompliance (i.e. producing and shipping over and above permitted amounts) and that it is now seeking retroactive approval rather than having applied for amendment ahead of modifying its operations. WWF suggests that Baffinland return to its approved rate of production."

NIRB received comments from several organizations and agencies along with QIA and WWF, including the Government of Nunavut, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Parks Canada and Transport Canada.

Malachi Arreak of Pond Inlet was the sole member of the public to comment.

Arreak's concern had to do primarily with narwhal.

"Today, there are no more narwhal pods. At least half of the population that used to live in Eclipse Sound has migrated to Jones Sound and points west. We have lost over 12,000 narwhal in the last two years, mainly due to changes in their traditional summer habitats," stated Arreak.

"They have moved to areas east, north and west towards Peel Sound and further, to avoid predation and the noise of industrial ships passing constantly through Eclipse Sound, Pond Inlet and Baffin Bay."

DFO also expressed concern, and stated it would need additional information.

"Proposed increases in shipping … have the potential to cause additional negative impacts to marine mammals. Potential negative impacts as a result of increased shipping activities may include: behavioural changes and/or disturbances resulting from increased frequency of noise, and increased mortality resulting from shipping strikes. Proposed watercourse realignment has potential to negatively impact the fish and fish habitat within the existing watercourses," stated DFO.

Arreak stated he "hope(s) more consideration is given to impacts on wildlife that is occurring now, causing socio-economic impacts to the Inuit of Pond Inlet."

Environment and Climate Change Canada stated Baffinland "has not provided enough information to support the conclusion that there will be no significant change to the project effects on air quality with a production increase."

The department notes that levels of dust and the impacts to air quality and water quality have been an ongoing issue at Mary River.

"While the original Environmental Assessment (EA) for the early revenue phase assessed truck traffic at 182 one-way trips, the forecasted 276 one-way trips constitutes a significant increase in traffic over the original EA and therefore the potential incremental impacts of increased activity should be assessed," stated the department.

Baffinland did not produce this assessment, citing no new activities are planned.
Baffinland responded to comments Aug. 9, with a 79-page document. Based on all information gathered NIRB will confirm by Aug. 21 whether or not a final hearing will be held, said NIRB's director of technical services Tara Arko.

"If no hearing is required, the board will be issuing its decision on the proposal on August 31," she said.

NIRB will then be looking at Baffinland's proposed rail line.