Nunavut’s environmental regulator is slated to make a recommendation next month on Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s application for increased shipments of iron ore in a request that the company argues must be approved to prevent layoffs at its mining site.
Baffinland’s Mary River project, which began mining for iron ore in 2014 on Baffin Island in Nunavut, received federal approval for six million tonnes of shipments annually from 2018 to 2021.
Baffinland is warning that the vast majority of its work force will face layoffs unless the mine is allowed to boost shipments from the current limit of 4.2 million tonnes for this year. That limit could be reached in late August, said former Nunavut premier Paul Quassa, who joined Baffinland in October as senior adviser to Brian Penney, the company’s chief executive officer.
“By the end of August, the 4.2 million is pretty well going to be gone,” he said in a phone interview from Igloolik on Tuesday.
Baffinland said that up to 1,328 jobs are at stake, including positions held by 209 Inuit. Another 400 contract employees could also be affected.
Dan Vandal, the federal Minister of Northern Affairs, has asked the territory’s regulator, the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB), to make a recommendation by Aug. 26 on Baffinland’s short-term request for six million tonnes of shipments of iron ore for this year.
Mr. Vandal has also indicated that he plans to decide in October on Baffinland’s long-term goal to expand operations to have a capacity of 12 million tonnes a year. Two months ago, the Nunavut regulator recommended to Ottawa that it should not approve that proposed Phase 2 expansion.
Mr. Quassa said an important group of Inuit elders supports Baffinland’s growth strategy.
In a letter to Mr. Vandal filed last week with the territory’s regulator, Pond Inlet elders said NIRB’s past assessment into the Phase 2 proposal was based on misinformation over concerns such as the threat to seals and caribou.
When the Mary River project began operating in 2014, elders knew “there would be opportunities for employment for Inuit, and Inuit businesses would also benefit,” according to the letter by Pond Inlet elders.
The Mittimatalik Hunters & Trappers Organization (MHTO) has expressed concerns about authorities potentially allowing Baffinland to ship larger amounts of iron ore. “MHTO is owed a deep duty of consultation and accommodation with respect to the Mary River project and any proposal to prolong production and transportation,” MHTO said in a letter earlier this month to the Nunavut regulator.
Houston-based Energy & Minerals Group, a private-equity firm, and Luxembourg-based steel producer ArcelorMittal are the co-owners of Baffinland.
“We need jobs for our people, we need jobs for our community,” Mr. Quassa said.
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