Valcourt exempts Nunavut iron mine expansion from land use plan
Minister says yes to Baffinland, sends Mary River Phase 2 proposal to the NIRB
(Updated 6:45 a.m., July 15)
Bernard Valcourt, the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, has sided with Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. in its dispute with the Nunavut Planning Commission.
In a letter dated July 13, Valcourt exempted Baffinland’s ambitious “Phase 2” proposal for the expansion of iron ore production and shipping at the Mary River mine from the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan.
At the same time, he referred the proposal directly to the Nunavut Impact Review Board.
Under the new scheme, filed in November 2014, Baffinland would increase iron ore production from an annual maximum of 4.2 million metric tons of iron ore per year to a annual maximum of 12 million metric tons.
That means an expansion of their shipping season from ice-free months only — roughly June to October — to a 10-month period stretching between June and March each year, including the November to March period when ice forms on Eclipse Sound.
To do that, Baffinland proposes 150 voyages a year, floating fuel storage, ice management vessels and a big increase in haul truck traffic along the tote road between Milne Inlet and Mary River.
The NPC found the expansion plan’s potential impact on sea ice does not conform to the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan.
But Baffinland, citing a provision in Article 11 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, reacted by asking Valcourt to exempt the proposal from the land use planning process, a request that the Qikiqtani Inuit Association immediately opposed.
This week, Baffinland got their answer — and it’s a yes.
Valcourt defended his decision by arguing that exempting the project from the land use plan is in line with the intent of the NLCA
“The ability to exempt a project proposal from the requirement that it conform to the applicable land use plan is an important part of the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement’s integrated system of resource management,” Valcourt said.
Article 11.5.11 of the NLCA states that if the NPC determines a proposal does not conform to a land use plan, the developer may ask the minister for an exemption.
The minister is allowed to grant the exemption request as long as they make written reasons available to the NPC and to the public.
In those reasons, Valcourt rejected submissions from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and the Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., who each said an exemption would be inconsistent with the intent of the NLCA.
“First, it is difficult to see how a process explicitly included within a regulatory scheme could be inconsistent with the intent of that scheme. Second, a ministerial exemption does not bypass or circumvent the planning commission,” Valcourt said.
Valcourt also cited a leaked letter from Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna that suggested numerous jobs and economic benefits are at stake.
Taptuna told Valcourt that if the Mary River project fails, at least 260 jobs and millions in wages and benefits could be lost.
And Baffinland — beset by plunging iron ore prices — has already said the economic viability of the Mary River project depends on their Phase 2 expansion project going forward.
“Delays are costly to us all, and good opportunities can disappear,” Valcourt said.
Another option available to Baffinland was to ask the planning commission for an amendment to the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan.
But Valcourt said that process would be too unwieldy and might raise broader issues not related to Baffinland’s specific proposal.
He also said the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan is likely to be soon replaced by the NPC’s Nunavut-wide land use plan, which is entering its final stages.
On that point, Valcourt said the Hamlet of Pond Inlet does not support the idea of a land use plan amendment and wants Baffinland’s proposal to go directly to the NIRB.
“I understand the Mayor and Hamlet of Pond Inlet share the view that the impact assessment process is the best way to proceed, and would give community members and effective forum to consider and provide input on the project proposal in a timely manner,” Valcourt said.