Arctic Bay supports Baffinland expansion as NIRB hearing resumes

A public hearing over the Mary River mine expansion resumes this week in Iqaluit.

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The Hamlet of Arctic Bay issued an open letter in support of Baffinland’s proposed expansion of Mary River mine, shown here, ahead of hearings this week. (Nunatsiaq News file photo)

The Hamlet of Arctic Bay has sent a letter of support for Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s proposed expansion of the company’s Mary River iron mine in Nunavut.

The letter of support came last week, just three days before Monday’s resumption of a Nunavut Impact Review Board’s hearing on the proposal. The letter states a motion of approval has been directly sent to the board, which will make a recommendation to the federal minister of northern affairs.

Baffinland is looking to double production at the Mary River mine, located on north Baffin Island, to 12 million tonnes of iron ore per year. The expansion would include construction of a 110-kilometer railway between the mine site and Milne Inlet, as well as another dock.

Arctic Bay is approximately 280 kilometres from Mary River mine. In February, hunters from Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet blockaded access to the Mary River to protest the proposed expansion. They expressed concerns the expansion will negatively affect the environment, including their ability to harvest wildlife that live in the area.

As well, Arctic Bay was one of the Baffin communities to sign a letter last summer stating displeasure with a multi-million-dollar agreement, called the Inuit Certainty Agreement, that lays out local oversight of the expansion. Other signatories on the letter included leaders from Pond Inlet, Igloolik, Sanirajak and Clyde River.

Arctic Bay Coun. Frank May said his community’s initial displeasure around the agreement centered on a lack of knowledge of what was in it.

May said COVID-19 played a large role in the information gap, as the Qikiqtani Inuit Association — the group that represents Inuit communities for the region — and Baffinland negotiated the agreement during lockdowns when representatives could not consult with communities.

“It never really got explained to people what was in [the agreement] and what was going on,” May said.

Since then, May said the QIA has made a presentation to Arctic Bay community members about the agreement, and these concerns have been alleviated.

Baffinland did not approach the hamlet about writing an open letter of support for the Mary River mine expansion, May said.

Brian Penney, president and CEO of Baffinland, visited Arctic Bay around six to eight months ago in a tour of the communities affected by the mine. He offered benefits, such as an office building and training for small motor repair, May said.

Some opposition to the Baffinland mine expansion remains. The QIA removed support for the Mary River mine expansion in March of this year and still holds that position.

At the time, QIA’s then-president P.J. Akeeagok, stated Inuit “did not participate in the development of the [expansion] proposal, and key information about project impacts remain unclear.” Akeeagok was elected as an MLA in last week’s territorial election.

Baffinland spokesperson Stuart Weinberg says the company has been engaging with the affected communities, citing 54 public meetings.

Weinberg said some of the new commitments as a result of meetings include new freshwater monitoring programs and construction of community infrastructure.

The hearings on Baffinland’s expansion of Mary River mine resume in Iqaluit from Nov. 1 to 6.