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Inuit, Baffinland seek common ground on Phase 2 proposal

Inuit and Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. are together grappling with the main issues related to the company's Phase 2 bid in a series of risk assessment workshops.

The first took place at the Mary River mine site in January, the second took place in Trois-Rivières, Quebec in February.

Baffinland held a second risk-assessment workshop Feb. 12 to 14 in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, which saw elders and hunter and trapper association members from Arctic Bay, Clyde River, Hall Beach, Iglulik, and Pond Inlet led on railway tour, observe snow removal practices along the rail line and a public crossing. and ride along a section of railway similar to what Baffinland has proposed for its phase 2 expansion at Mary River.
photo courtesy of Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.

Inuit have been pushing back against the company's proposal to build a 110-kilometre railway from the mine site to Milne Inlet and a further increase in production.

"Without knowing how we will be impacted, how we will be affected – the community or wildlife – we didn't want the railroad before we got more information.," said the Mittimatalik HTA's Caleb Sangoya.

In mid-February, Baffinland brought elders and hunters and trappers organization (HTO/HTA) representatives from Arctic Bay, Clyde River, Hall Beach, Iglulik, and Pond Inlet down to Trois-Rivières for a workshop which explored, among other items, what a railway would mean exactly.

"As there are no rail operations in Nunavut, it was important for workshop attendees to have a first-hand look at what these operations would look like at Mary River," stated Baffinland's director of corporate sustainability Megan Lord-Hoyle in an email.

Sangoya says the efforts the company is making to provide information are useful.

"Very useful, for me," he said.

This is good news overall, since lack of information is often cited as an impediment to fully move forward with the Mary River mine in submission after submission to regulatory authorities on a project which has seen multiple changes over several years.

Inuit concerns about the railway include that it will block trails – both for Inuit and wildlife. A possible solution for both is bridges over the railway.

"Bridges would be helpful," said Sangoya, adding community representatives took many opportunities to discuss among themselves.

Sangoya also says, about  the trip to Trois-Rivières, that he learned the railway could reduce dust and pollution, in comparison to trucks on the existing tote road. He said he thinks the railway is a much better proposition to the existing trucking.

In the past, the company has said the rail project, estimated at under $1 billion, is the better proposition, and that "it doesn’t make sense to truck 12 million tons of ore on a (Milne) tote road."

Another aspect of the Phase 2 proposal is that dramatic increase in production to 12 million tons of ore, up from the current six, means increased shipping through sensitive marine areas.

"We have great concerns about it, because of wildlife issue, including the sea mammals. The beluga whales, seals, and fish, and so on," said Sangoya.

"At the port and everywhere, all the way from when they enter Baffin Bay all the way to Milne Inlet. It's the same as the roads. It's already an impact now, so if they're going to increase the ships there's going to be much more impact."

Compensation is an ongoing discussion.

But, ultimately, Sangoya says Inuit want a stake in the resource companies – Inuit want to be partners in resource development.

"It's not on the table, yet," he said.

"We talk about it, but we've never put it into an agreement – yet. Not enough benefits come to the communities."

Sangoya says the company seems to be listening to Inuit, but listening or not, "the NIRB (Nunavut Impact Review Board) has to approve it."

A NIRB-led technical meeting has been scheduled for April 8-10 at the Royal Canadian Legion Air Cadet Hall in Iqaluit.

In a letter dated March 6, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada informed NIRB that the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, the Hamlet of Pond Inlet, the Hamlet of Iglulik, the Mittimatalik HTA, the Hall Beach HTO, and the Nunavut Independent Television Network would each receive participant funding for the Baffinland process, for an overall total of $262,609.

A third Baffinland-led risk-assessment workshop is scheduled to take place the week of May 6 at the Mary River Mine.

Following several other steps, a public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 16 to 21 in Pond Inlet, a change in date from the original May plan. NIRB then intends to submit its final report on its recommendations about the phase 2 proposal to the federal government by Nov. 5.