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Participant funding now available for Baffinland Phase 2 process

Good news arrived from the federal government in late December when it announced a new Northern Participant Funding Program – $10.3 million over five years.

That's just in time for communities seeking to be a part of the Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. Phase 2 proposal process to access that pot of money.

photo courtesy Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.
Northern organizations and individuals interested in participating in the Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. Phase 2 proposal process may apply to a new federal government funding pot which aims to ensure Indigenous peoples can participate in project-specific technical reviews of information, research, data collection, preparation of submissions and presentations, preparation of witnesses, and retention of experts, including legal representation.

The Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) will be handling applications on a project-by-project basis.

"NIRB's expectations to inform and involve potentially impacted communities in the impact-assessment process are the same regardless of the availability of participant funding," said Tara Arko, NIRB's director of technical services and acting executive director.

"However, the participant funding may provide additional resources for organizations and individuals that qualify to be part of the technical review of documents, as well as attend the technical meeting or final hearing to provide evidence before the board."

Arko said that funding pot is also open to those seeking to participate in the Agnico Eagle Whale Tail expansion proposal.

"NIRB is working to ensure parties are aware of the participant funding, have access to the guide and application forms, and coordinate the submission of the applications to the Government of Canada," she said.

The funding is to help Indigenous peoples and Northerners access the resources and expertise needed to participate effectively in impact assessments of major resource or infrastructure development projects in Canada's North, according to the federal government. All three territories will share the pot of money, specifically "those potentially affected by major project development in areas subject to modern land claim agreements."

"Indigenous peoples should have a real opportunity to have input into decisions about major infrastructure and resource projects that can affect their communities and way of life. More effective Indigenous engagement is an opportunity to advance reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous peoples, while rebuilding public trust in Canada's impact assessment system, fostering economic opportunities and growth, and safeguarding the environment for future generations," stated Minister of Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs Dominic LeBlanc.

The government also specified the activities to be funded: project-specific technical reviews of information, research, data collection, preparation of submissions and presentations, preparation of witnesses, and retention of experts, including legal representation.

A funding review committee made up of Indigenous, territorial and federal government representatives will make funding recommendations after reviewing applications.

Baffinland's Phase 2 proposal, which includes a raised 110-km railway between the mine site and Milne Inlet, is receiving a full environmental assessment – the highest level of scrutiny for any proposed development project in the territory.

The Mary River project, which has seen many project and proposal changes over the years, is technically complex. The federal government has requested NIRB shift some timelines.

"On behalf of federal departments, including Crown Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Fisheries and Oceans, Environment and Climate Change, Natural Resources, Health, Parks and Transport Canada, I would like to express our concern about the process timeline for the Phase 2 proposal, in particular, timelines anticipated between technical meetings in March 2019 and the final written submission on April 5, 2019," wrote director general for the Northern projects management office Lisa Dyer on Dec. 12.

"It is essential to the Phase 2 assessment process that all stakeholders and interested parties are given the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the review process."

NIRB's Arko explained why parties are looking for additional time to assess the Baffinland Phase 2 proposal.

"When NIRB assesses an amendment to an existing project, such as the Phase 2 development proposal for the Baffinland Mary River project, parties would be doing a technical analysis of the impacts and mitigation presented in the proponent’s final environmental impact statement addendum, but also be considering monitoring data from the approved project to better understand current and expected types and levels of impact," she said.

"As the Phase 2 development proposal includes additional shipping of ore to the north Milne Port which is currently being undertaken via the Tote Road at levels outlined in the recent production increase decision, parties are interested in seeing the results of monitoring activities on the ground, as well as the audit from the production increase decision."

Further, the company requested a coordinated approach of its proposal, meaning it wants the NIRB process and the Nunavut Water Board (NWB) process to be coordinated.

"The Nunavut Agreement and Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act direct that coordination of processes must occur where an impact assessments and permitting process can line up to reduce duplication," said Arko.

"The NIRB and NWB have coordinated steps in receiving the project description and final environmental impact statement addendum, and while the NIRB has already initiated the technical review period, we remain in communication with the NWB for options to coordinate the upcoming technical meetings and final hearing."

A final hearing date cannot be specified at this time, pending timeline decisions.

NIRB, at the request of the QIA, extended the deadline to apply for participant funding by one week to Jan. 18.