The future of Baffinland’s Mary River mine in Nunavut could be determined on Friday, as the territory’s assessment commission is expected to issue a long-awaited recommendation on a proposal to expand the iron mine and double its production.
It marks the end of an extended four-year process by the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) to gather information and opinions on the proposal, hold consultations in several affected communities, and make a recommendation to Dan Vandal, the Minister of Relations Affairs and Northern Affairs, who will have the final say on whether this can go ahead.
The company has suggested that if its phase two proposal does not get the green light, the future of existing mining operations could be in jeopardy. He says it would put many jobs for local Inuit at risk.
The mine has been operating on North Baffin Island since 2015 and is currently licensed to mine and ship up to six million tonnes of ore per year. The expansion proposal aims to double that number, to 12 million tonnes per year.
The expansion would also see a 110 kilometer railway built between the mine site and the company’s port at Milne Inlet, from where iron ore is shipped from Nunavut in up to 168 huge iron ore carriers by year.
Baffinland said the phase two expansion would be a stepping stone to eventually increase production further, to 30 million tonnes per year.
For the proposed expansion, shareholders would be asked to invest between $1.2 billion and $1.3 billion, according to a credit report on Baffinland, prepared by Moody’s Investors Service.
Deep concerns for some Inuit
Public hearings and community roundtables over the past two years – frequently interrupted or delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and public health restrictions – have revealed deep concerns among many local Inuit about the impacts of the existing mine and what the expansion could mean.
Some have argued that the Mary River mine has already harmed local caribou and narwhal populations, and thus also local communities and traditional culture.
In Pond Inlet, Nunavut, the community closest to the mine site, Baffinland was accused by a local hunter of “trying to buy us”, with repeated statements about jobs and money, and threats to put the mine in maintenance condition if expansion has not proceeded.
Last year, opposition in Pond Inlet exploded with a blockade at the mine site airport.
Baffinland spoke often throughout the evaluation process of various agreements, commitments and committees that, in phase two, would ensure Inuit a much greater voice in operations.
“The Mary River Project has the long-term ability to change the lives of Nunavut for the better. We believe there is overwhelming evidence before the NIRB that Phase Two will create economic prosperity while protecting the environment and strengthening communities,” reads the company’s final brief. to the blackboard.
CNER’s public hearings concluded in January, and the commission later requested a 60-day extension to the normal 45-day deadline to issue its recommendation citing “exceptionally difficult circumstances” associated with pandemic-related delays. The new deadline is Friday.
This is “the most in-depth and lengthy assessment ever undertaken by the Commission”, according to CNER’s letter to Minister Dan Vandal in February.
The NIRB’s recommendation may or may not be accepted by the Minister.
In June 2016, NIRB recommended that Ottawa reject Sabina Gold and Silver Corp.’s Back River gold mine proposal, citing environmental and social impacts. The minister sent the proposal back to CNER in 2017, giving the mine another chance.