Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut July 26, 2016 - 10:00 am

Nunavut regulator: we can’t assess Baffinland’s new railway proposal

Plan for Milne Inlet railway may not be covered by land use plan exemption

NUNATSIAQ NEWS
Iron ore from the Mary River mine is currently trucked from the top of Deposit 1 of the Naluujaak pit, top left, downhill to an ore crusher. The crushed ore is trucked about 100 km down a relatively flat tote road to the port at Milne Inlet. The short spur road in this photo leads to a small storage area in bottom right. (FILE PHOTO)
Iron ore from the Mary River mine is currently trucked from the top of Deposit 1 of the Naluujaak pit, top left, downhill to an ore crusher. The crushed ore is trucked about 100 km down a relatively flat tote road to the port at Milne Inlet. The short spur road in this photo leads to a small storage area in bottom right. (FILE PHOTO)
The port facility in Milne Inlet, shown here in a photo from 2015, where Baffinland would like to see a railway bring iron ore. (FILE PHOTO)
The port facility in Milne Inlet, shown here in a photo from 2015, where Baffinland would like to see a railway bring iron ore. (FILE PHOTO)

The Nunavut Impact Review Board says it cannot assess whether a railway can replace the Milne Inlet tote road as part of the Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. Phase 2 expansion program until after the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Minister decides whether the issue is covered by a July 2015 exemption to the North Baffin land use plan.

So in response to correspondence from Baffinland, the NIRB still insists they want the minister of INAC to step in and clarify an exemption from the Nunavut Planning Commission process that ex-INAC minister Bernard Valcourt granted in July 2015.

The NIRB first issued that request to the federal government on Feb. 22, 2016, and continues to explain their request to the company.

Ryan Barry, the NIRB’s executive director, said in a July 25 letter to Todd Burlingame, vice president of sustainable development at Baffinland, that the 2015 decision to grant the North Baffin land use plan exemption centred on the marine shipping component of the Phase 2 Proposal — and in particular proposed icebreaking.

“The Board found itself unable to assess whether the Minister’s Exemption continues to apply to the Phase 2 Proposal as modified to include an additional railway for ore transport,” Barry said.

The “board continues to await the requested clarification from the Minister,” Barry said.

Barry said the “NIRB appreciates the time-sensitive nature of project development schedules and the need for clarity and timeliness for their associated regulatory processes.” 

Right now, it’s not clear what would happen if INAC Minister Carolyn Bennett were to decide that the 2015 land use plan exemption does not cover a proposed Milne Inlet railway, and if such a decision might require either an amendment to the land use plan or an expansion of the scope of the earlier exemption.

In February 2016, Baffinland proposed the possible construction of 100-kilometre railway from its Mary River mine to Milne Inlet as part of its Phase 2 expansion proposal.

That followed a July 2015 decision by Valcourt, then the minister of the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, who sided with Baffinland in a dispute with the NPC, which had ruled earlier that Baffinland’s Phase 2 proposal did not conform to the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan.

The NPC had found the expansion plan’s potential impact on sea ice did 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.

Valcourt then exempted Baffinland’s Phase 2 proposal from the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan.

At the same time, he referred the proposal directly to the NIRB — but Baffinland’s proposal changed once again, in February 2016, with the addition of the railway plan.

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association said the new plan likely involves more changes to the Milne Inlet port near Eclipse Sound on Baffin Island’s northeast shore, the shipping route from Milne Inlet, and the types of ships that may be used.

Baffinland has changed its plans for Mary River a number of times.

The original proposal called for a $5-billion railway to be built from the mine south to Steensby Inlet on the Foxe Basin side of Baffin Island — a plan shelved by Baffinland, for the time being at least, due to its high price tag.

Instead, the company obtained permission to transport iron ore along a tote road between the mine and Milne Inlet.

And then in late 2014, Baffinland proposed significant changes to its project certificate, including:

• more than tripling truckloads of iron ore along the tote road to the Milne Inlet port;

• nearly tripling the output of iron ore from Milne Inlet, from 4.2-million tonnes to 12-million tonnes per year;

• increasing the shipping season from three or four months a year to ten months a year; and,

• building a second dock at Milne Inlet and a nearby tank farm capable of holding 140-million litres of fuel.

The NIRB decided in August 2015 that the proposed changes warranted a full public review, requiring Baffinland to submit a new Environmental Impact Statement.

Baffinland had aimed to submit its assessment in September, but this is now likely to be pushed back due to the NIRB’s request for more clarity on what exactly the NPC exemption applies to.

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