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Federal cabinet ministers OK temporary production increase at Nunavut iron ore mine

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The Mary River mine sits about 150 kilometres south of Pond Inlet, Nunavut as shown in this undated handout image. Federal cabinet ministers have approved a temporary production increase for the iron ore mine on the northern tip of Baffin Island, preventing potential job losses in Nunavut. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. *MANDATORY CREDIT*

POND INLET, Nunavut — Federal cabinet ministers have approved a temporary production increase for an iron ore mine on the northern tip of Baffin Island, preventing potential job losses in Nunavut. 

Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal issued a letter Tuesday to the Nunavut Impact Review Board saying the ministers support Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation's request to increase production to six million from 4.2 million tonnes at its Mary River Mine until the end of this year. 

The board, an environmental assessment agency in Nunavut, recommended late last month that the mine be allowed to transport and ship six million tonnes of ore, as it has done since 2018. 

Vandal said the ministers agree that Baffinland's commitments to improve mitigation efforts and monitoring can adequately address any negative environmental or socio-economic impacts from the mine. 

“Our acceptance of the board’s findings and reliance on the board’s identification of issues and concerns reflects the extensive work carried out by the board, based on input from all parties, on this key development project,” Vandal wrote in the letter. 

Additional requirements include improving environment working groups, criteria for beginning and closing the shipping season, establishing hunters’ access routes and auditing dust impacts. 

The ministers also support installing an independent third party to monitor the mine. Vandal said the federal government will start discussions with Baffinland, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated on the proposal by Nov. 30. 

Baffinland had said if the production increase was not granted, it would have to lay off nearly 1,200 employees, including more than 300 Inuit, as it expected to reach the 4.2 million tonnes target this month. The company sent termination notices to workers in August and said the move would also affect more than 400 contract workers.

In a statement Tuesday, Baffinland spokesman Peter Akman said the company was immediately rescinding all termination notices.

"The decision clearly recognizes the importance of Baffinland to the Nunavut economy," he said.

"Baffinland is committed to responsible operation and believes we can operate in a manner that protects the environment while creating economic prosperity and building stronger communities." 

Vandal recommended the board issue the amended certificate so Baffinland can increase production as soon as possible. 

Baffinland was previously granted approval to extract, transport and ship up to six million tonnes of ore from the mine in 2018, while it awaited a decision on a separate proposal to increase production to 12 million tonnes as part of long-term expansion plans. The temporary production increase was extended until the end of 2021. 

In July, Vandal extended the timeline for a decision on the 12 million tonnes expansion request by 90 days. In his recent letter, he said the approval of the temporary production increase “should not be interpreted to presuppose a decision” on the expansion. 

The board has recommended that the expansion be denied over concerns with potential negative impacts on the environment and communities. 

In February 2021, a group of hunters who call themselves the Nuluujaat Land Guardians held a weeklong blockade at the mine in protest of the expansion.

Baffinland has filed a lawsuit over the blockade, while the land guardians have issued a defence and a counterclaim.

— By Emily Blake in Yellowknife

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2022. 

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

The Canadian Press