Canada has rejected an Arctic mine expansion project after years of uncertainty and fierce protests, in what community members and activists say is a victory for the vulnerable marine ecosystem and wildlife .
Baffinland Iron Mines’ planned expansion at its Mary River site would have seen production double to 12 million tonnes of iron ore. To get the ore to market, the mine also said it needed to build a 110 km railway to a port near the community of Pond Inlet and double its shipping.
The company – the largest private sector employer in the territory of Nunavut with nearly 2,600 workers – said expansion was essential to remain profitable.
On Wednesday evening, after repeated delays, Canada’s Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal rejected the company’s request, citing fears from Inuit groups that the expansion could have devastating effects on marine mammals, including Narwhal key populations. The region is home to the densest population of narwhals in the world, an important food source for Inuit communities.
The move comes six months after the Nunavut Impact Review Board ruled against the expansion. The board held face-to-face meetings in Pond Inlet, the community closest to the mine, as well as in the territorial capital of Iqaluit. After hearing from community members and the mine, she concluded that the project could cause “significant adverse ecosystem effects on marine mammals and fish, caribou and other terrestrial wildlife, as well as vegetation and land. ‘freshwater’ as well as ‘significant negative socio-economic effects on Inuit harvesting, cultivation, land use and food security in Nunavut’. The board’s review took four years, the longest in its history.
In his decision on Wednesday, Vandal wrote that he and other ministers had “carefully considered” the proposal, as well as comments from Inuit groups, concluding that the project “should not proceed at this time.”
Vandal said the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated had written to him and raised concerns about the proposed expansion, arguing that adverse effects could not be “prevented, mitigated or adaptively managed within the framework proposed mitigation measures”.
In his decision, the Minister recognized the economic importance of the project, given that Baffinland’s operations account for almost a quarter of the territory’s GDP.
“However, we have taken particular note of the findings of the council, designated Inuit organizations and hunters and trappers organizations… who have expressed lack of confidence that Phase 2, as currently designed, can take place without unacceptable impacts,” he wrote. .
Many community members have said they are not against the mine, but fear the expansion will create irreversible damage.
The decision was met with the approval of marine conservationists. “Our first reaction was relief. It was a very arduous and lengthy hearing process. But in this process, the communities spoke loud and clear. They’ve expressed a lot of concern about it,” said Chris Debicki, vice president and attorney for the conservation organization Oceans North. “But there are still unresolved issues regarding the impact of mining and shipping on the ecosystem.” Among their concerns are the effects of iron dust from large trucks, leading to possible contamination of sea ice.
Others say they have been overlooked by Iqaluit policy makers. Under Nunavut’s landmark 1993 agreement, which established a number of key rights for Inuit to their lands, Baffinland is required to negotiate a benefits agreement with Inuit groups who represent residents of the territory.
Jerry Natanine, mayor of Clyde River, previously told the Guardian that he and others were trying to form a new group that would have the power to negotiate royalty payments and have more of a say in projects that might affect their communities.
In February 2021, a group of hunters blocked access to the mine in protest, braving freezing temperatures for almost a week. Seven hunters, some of whom came from Clyde River, used snowmobiles and sleds to block the airstrip and service road leading to the Mary River mine as temperatures plummeted to -30C (-22C). F).
“The decision comes from years of disappointment from Inuit organizations that don’t care about us,” Natanine said at the time, adding that hunters are forced to “fight for their culture and their way of life” when projects are imposed on them. their.
Baffinland, jointly owned by ArcelorMittal and Houston Energy and Minerals Group’s private equity firm, had previously tried to allay concerns about the project, saying it was confident wildlife would not be affected by increased ore shipments. The company also claimed more than C$2 billion (US$1.5 billion) in royalties paid to Inuit over the 30-year life of the mine.
The company was due to release a statement Thursday in response to the federal government’s decision.
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