POND INLET, Nunavut — An environmental assessment agency in Nunavut has recommended that an iron ore mine on the northern tip of Baffin Island be allowed to increase its production by roughly two million tonnes this year, staving off expected job losses.
The Nunavut Impact Review Board issued its report Thursday stating that Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation's Mary River Mine should be allowed to temporarily increase production from 4.2 to six million tonnes, as it has done in recent years.
It said if Baffinland implements additional mitigation and monitoring measures as promised, "the potential for significant negative environmental and socio-economic effects with the proposal can be effectively managed."
The proposal has now been referred to Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal to make a final decision.
Baffinland has said if the production increase is not approved, it would have to lay off employees as it expects to reach the 4.2 million tonnes target in October. The company sent notices to nearly 1,200 workers in August, stating terminations would take place on Sept. 25 and Oct. 11. It said the move would also affect more than 400 contract workers.
Minister Vandal had denied Baffinland's request for an emergency order to allow for the production increase in June. Vandal had asked the review board to make its recommendation by Aug. 26, but it said it could not meet that deadline.
In a statement following the review board's recommendation Thursday, Baffinland said it was delaying termination notices until Oct. 20, as it expects Vandal would issue his decision by then.
"Baffinland is committed to responsible operation and believes we can continue to operate in a manner that protects the environment while creating economic prosperity for the territory," Baffinland spokesman Peter Akman said in a statement.
"We now urge the federal government to follow the (Nunavut Impact Review Board) recommendation and permit the company to continue to operate at current levels."
The Mary River Mine was previously granted approval to extract, transport and ship up to six million tonnes of iron ore 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 at the mine. The temporary production increase was extended until the end of 2021.
On July 11, Vandal extended the timeline for a decision on the 12 million tonnes expansion request by 90 days.
The impact review board has recommended that the expansion be denied.
In February 2021, a group of hunters who call themselves the Nuluujaat Land Guardians held a weeklong blockade at Mary River Mine in protest of the expansion.
Baffinland has filed a lawsuit over the blockade, while the land guardians have issued a defence and counterclaim.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.
— By Emily Blake in Yellowknife
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
The Canadian Press