Nunavut mayor ‘incorrectly’ approved Baffinland mine expansion, Pond Inlet councilor says

A councilor in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, accuses the hamlet’s mayor of bypassing council to push for a controversial mine expansion.

In a letter to Canada’s Minister of Northern Affairs, Pond Inlet Coun. Boazie Ootoova claims Mayor Joshua Arreak broke city rules by “inappropriately” approving the Baffinland Iron Mines project without council approval.

Baffinland, which operates the Mary River iron ore mine in northern Baffin Island, is proposing to double production at the mine and build a railroad between the mine site and its port facilities. Pond Inlet is the closest community and dozens of local residents work at the mine.

On Friday, the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) issued its long-awaited recommendation on the expansion project and ruled it should not proceed.

This is despite a letter received by NIRB in January from Arreak, which will be listed as Pond Inlet’s final submission to the review process. The letter sought approval for the Baffinland expansion, citing the jobs and financial benefits the mine provides to the Inuit of Pond Inlet.

Ootoova, however, says Arreak’s letter was written without council approval and contradicts other Hamlet resolutions that opposed Baffinland expansion. This gives the “false impression” that Pond Inlet supports the project, and Ootoova felt it was his duty to point this out, he wrote to the federal minister.

“There is no record of this letter in the minutes of Hamlet Council meetings and council members have confirmed that they were unaware of this letter before it was filed with CNER,” Ootoova wrote.

“This letter should be removed from the CNER registry and should not be construed as an endorsement of Baffinland’s Phase 2 application by the Hamlet of Pond Inlet.”

Ootoova also suggests that Arreak’s letter to CNER “looks a lot like” a presentation made by Baffinland leaders a few months earlier to Pond Inlet council.

“There were no resolutions endorsing their position or the points they raised in their presentation to Council,” Ootoova wrote.

Arreak’s letter to CNER outlines how Pond Inlet has already benefited from the mine, how the expansion project will mean more jobs and benefits, and how Inuit have been promised more participation and control over Development.

Joshua Arreak is the mayor of Pond Inlet. In a letter to CNER on behalf of the hamlet, Arreak said the Mary River mine “must stay open.” (CBC Docs/Arctic Blue)

The company has also suggested that the mine could be effectively closed if the expansion is not approved.

“This mine must remain open,” read Arreak’s submission to CNER.

“Pond Inlet will not be able to replace lost jobs for Pond Inlet residents, nor will it replace economic benefits if this mine closes.”

Speaking to CBC in Inuktitut, Ootoova said Arreak’s letter to CNER upset him. He does not support the proposed Baffinland expansion because he feels the existing mine is already disturbing wildlife and the environment.

Pond Inlet Mayor Arreak did not respond to CBC’s request for an interview.

Decision expected within 90 days

NIRB completed its nearly four-year review of the Baffinland expansion project with the recommendation issued on Friday. The final say, however, lies with Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal, who said a decision would be made within 90 days.

CNER’s 441-page report details areas of uncertainty regarding the effects of the expansion project on the environment, local culture and food security. The council also mentioned a discrepancy between how Inuit are experiencing the effects of the existing mine and how Baffinland has responded.

In a letter to Vandal, CNER Chairman Kaviq Kaluraq said the mine expansion could have “significant adverse ecosystem effects” on marine mammals, fish, caribou and other wildlife. , which in turn could adversely affect Inuit culture, land use and food security.

Pond Inlet residents celebrate with a parade on Friday after CNER issued its recommendation against mine expansion. (Submitted by Andrew Tagak)

Some people in Pond Inlet reacted to CNER’s decision on Friday with celebration. A line of people and vehicles marched through town, some waving Nunavut flags.

Baffinland released a written statement on Friday, saying the company was “surprised and disappointed” by CNER’s recommendation. He promised “a more complete response” in the coming days.

The Nunavut government also said in a news release Friday that it would analyze the NIRB report, “to assess the impact of these recommendations on Nunavummiut and Nunavut communities.”

“A full review will be conducted of the report to understand how NIRB reached its decision and how stakeholder feedback obtained throughout the lengthy review process was taken into account in the final decision,” the statement said.

Oceans North, a non-profit environmental group and an outspoken critic of Baffinland’s environmental impact, released a statement on Saturday saying that the CNER recommendation “affirms the positions taken by the most affected Inuit communities, including Mittimatalik [Pond Inlet].”

A view of Pond Inlet, Nunavut, and Eclipse Sound in 2016. The hamlet on North Baffin Island is the closest community to the Baffinland iron ore mine. The Hamlet Council’s final submission to the Nunavut Impact Review Board expressed support for a proposed mine expansion, but one Hamlet Councilor said that submission should be ignored. (Nick Murray/CBC)

Chris Debicki of Oceans North said in a written statement that the Mary River mine can benefit Nunavummiut and all Canadians, if “properly developed”.

“We hope Minister Vandal will respect the NIRB recommendation and ensure the careful development of this resource while protecting the living resources on which North Baffin communities depend,” Debicki wrote.

CNER’s recommendations are not always accepted. In 2016, when the council recommended that a gold mine in the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut not be permitted, then federal minister Carolyn Bennett rejected that recommendation, asking the NIRB to give a second chance at the project.

This mine was approved the following year.