Baffinland gets its marching orders from NIRB

Final environmental impact statement must deal with a list of 356 points

By JANE GEORGE


“Incorporate IQ in consideration of caribou crossings in its railroad design” — that’s point 127 of 356 on the commitment list attached to the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s pre-hearing decision to Baffinland. (FILE IMAGE FROM THE DRAFT EIS)

The Nunavut Impact Review Board wants to see more information about the impact of the proposed Mary River mine project on walrus and other marine mammals. Point 44 out of 356 in the pre-hearing decision's


The Nunavut Impact Review Board wants to see more information about the impact of the proposed Mary River mine project on walrus and other marine mammals. Point 44 out of 356 in the pre-hearing decision’s “commitment list” given Dec. 9 to Baffinland asks for its final environmental impact statement on project to “include the risk of marine mortality from vessels strike…focus the assessment on bowhead, walrus, beluga, narwhal and ringed seals.” (PHOTO COURTESY OF DEPARTMENT OF FISHERIES AND OCEANS)

Baffinland has its work cut out.

The Nunavut Imact Review Board recently sent a long list of points that Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. will have to address in its final environmental impact statement for its Mary River iron mine project on northern Baffin Island.

Baffinland, a private company now under the control of ArcelorMittal, the European steel-making giant, and a private investment firm, Iron Ore Holdings LP, wants to see the Mary River mine churn out 21 million tonnes of iron ore a year, which will then be shipped out year-round to markets in Europe and Asia for at least 20 years.

You might think the 10-volume, 5,000-page draft environmental statement on the project, submitted early this year, would answer every concern about the proposed mine project.

But that lengthy draft EIS came under harsh scrutiny for its shortfalls during the technical review and pre-conference hearing meetings held last October and November in Iqaluit, Igloolik and Pond Inlet.

The result: the Dec. 9 pre-conference hearing decision that lists 356 detailed points that Baffinland must respond to in its final EIS.

These touch on such issues as shipping and rail routes, ballast dispersal and the cumulative effects of the project on caribou — in short on all the impacts that the mine may have on water, air, land, animals and people.

The “commitment” list’s set of topics reflect some of the pointed criticism made during the technical review by groups like the Qikiqtani Inuit Association which said the draft EIS was “flawed, with limited or lacking baseline information,” with poor predictions on impacts and a lack of detailed monitoring and management programs.

The NIRB, along with the Nunavut Planning Commission, also wants to see more information about the mine’s proposed railroad, while the Nunavut Water Board wants Baffinland to address the “substantive” deficiencies in its water license application.

And the review board wants Baffinland to make sure its final EIS considers issues like access and safety for land users, the use of low sulfur fuel for ships, and the recent listing of polar bear as a Species of Special Concern.

As well, the NIRB said the final EIS should discuss changes to harvesting and traditional activities and provide a description of the types of jobs and contracts which will flow from the mine — which is expected to hire thousands of workers during its construction phase.

The review board also wants to see an explanation of how traditional knowledge has been incorporated in the final EIS.

But it’s not just the kind of information that’s important, it’s how Baffinland presents this information, the NIRB said.

The review board asked Baffinland to make sure “a plain language summary version” of the final EIS addresses issues that were raised at the community roundtables held earlier this year.

The dates for the final hearing will be set once the final EIS is received from Baffinland, the NIRB’s own review is complete and the technical review period (of at least 90 days) is underway.

The final hearings will take place in Iqaluit, Igloolik and Pond Inlet.

Baffinland has said it intends to submit its final EIS by the end of January 2012. For the Mary River mine to start operations in 2013, the environmental assessment process would have to be completed and all permits received by the second half of 2012.

But the NIRB said in its recent decision that it won’t schedule the final hearing until it’s received the final EIS — and then, it isn’t promising to schedule the hearing sessions right away, if the timing puts that during the late spring and summer.

“The Board believes Baffinland will resolve most of the parties’ outstanding concerns” by following the directives in the Dec. 9 document.

But to smooth the final hearing process, the NIRB also is encouraging Baffinland to hold community information sessions in all “potentially affected” communities before the final hearings start.

The NIRB is also encouraging Baffinland and the Government of Nunavut to meet with city and hamlet councils and social service providers in those communities before the final hearing.

And the review board suggests the QIA hold meetings with “potentially affected Inuit beneficiaries,” including Inuit businesses and those providing services to Inuit, to discuss the process and progress on the Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement negotiations.

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