Nunavut Impact Review Board advises federal cabinet turn down Nunavut mine expansion

A proposed mine expansion in North Baffin Island has received a “no go” recommendation from a vital Nunavut regulatory body and the fate of Phase 2 of the Mary River Iron Ore mine rests with the federal cabinet.

Early Friday evening, the Nunavut Impact Review Board released its recommendation on whether the Mary River Iron mine should be allowed to double its output.

That increase in production is vital to the mine’s existence, according to Baffinland Iron Ore company, the mine’s owner.

In a letter to the federal cabinet, NIRB chairperson Kavik Kaluraq cited environmental concerns as the major reason for the decision, citing “adverse ecosystem effects on marine animals and fish, caribou and other terrestrial wildlife” both in Nunavut and “outside the Nunavut Settlement area.”

The final decision rests with Ottawa, as the federal cabinet can choose to accept, reject, or send back the NIRB opinion.

Baffinland has stated publicly that it would consider closing down the mine if it could not increase production.

Baffinland also says more than 300 Inuit work at the mine.

Complaints about potential covid infection from workers at the mine resulted in community members from both Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet blockading the mine’s airstrip and road in February 2021, until a court order was issued for them to leave after a week.

Started in October 2018, the Nunavut Impact Review Board process is the longest in the agency’s history.

Inuit hunters have said they fear any expansion of the mine could hasten the ongoing decline of the narwhal population they rely on for food.

Harvesters from Pond Inlet on the northern coast of Baffin Island said numbers of the iconic, single-tusked whale are already a small fraction of what they were before the Mary River iron mine began operating.

“We’re used to seeing thousands and thousands of narwhal,” said Enooki Inuarak. “We used to go to sleep hearing the narwhals breathe.

“The last couple of years, there has been barely any.”

With files from the Canadian Press

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