Canada Rejects Arctic Mine Expansion Project After Years of Fierce Protest | oceans

Canada has rejected an Arctic mine expansion project after years of uncertainty and fierce protestin what community members and activists say is a victory for the vulnerable marine ecosystem and wildlife.

Baffinland Iron Mines’ planned expansion to its Mary River site would have doubled output to 12m tonnes of iron ore. To get the ore to market, the mine also said it needed to build a 110km railway to a port near the community of Pond Inlet, as well as double its shipment.

The company, the largest private sector employer in the Nunavut Territory with nearly 2,600 workers, has said expansion is critical to remaining profitable.

On Wednesday night, after repeated delays, Canada’s northern affairs minister, Dan Vandal, rejected the company’s request, citing fears by Inuit groups that the expansion could have devastating effects on marine mammals. including key narwhal populations. The region is home to the world’s densest population of narwhals, an important food source for Inuit communities.

That decision comes six months after the Nunavut Impact Review Board came out against the expansion. The board held face-to-face meetings in Pond Inlet, the closest community to the mine, as well as in the territorial capital of Iqaluit. After hearing from community members and the mine, it concluded that the project could result in “significant adverse ecosystem effects on marine mammals and fish, caribou and other terrestrial wildlife, along with vegetation and freshwater.” as well as “significant adverse socioeconomic effects.” effects on the crop, culture, land use and food security of Inuit in Nunavut”. The board’s review lasted four years, the longest in its history.

In his decision on Wednesday, Vandal wrote that he and other ministers had “carefully considered” the proposal, along with input from Inuit groups, and concluded that the project “should not proceed at this time.”

Vandal said that both the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated wrote to him and raised concerns about the proposed expansion, arguing that the adverse effects could not be “prevented, mitigated, or adaptively managed under the proposed mitigations.”

In his decision, the minister recognized the economic importance of the project, as Baffinland’s operations account for nearly a quarter of the territory’s GDP.

“However, we have taken particular note of the findings of the board, designated Inuit organizations and hunter and trapper organizations… who have expressed a lack of confidence that Phase 2, as currently envisioned, can proceed without unacceptable impacts,” he wrote. .

Many community members have said they are not against the mine, but are concerned that the expansion will cause irreversible damage.

The decision has been met with the approval of marine conservationists. “Our first reaction was relief. It was a very arduous and lengthy hearing process. But in that process, the communities were strong and clear. They expressed a lot of concern about this,” said Chris Debicki, vice president and adviser for the conservation organization. oceans North. “But there are still unresolved issues regarding the impact of mining and shipping on the ecosystem.” Among his concerns are the effects of iron dust from big trucks, leading to possible contamination of sea ice.

Others say they have been overlooked by decision makers in Iqaluit. Under the landmark 1993 Nunavut Agreementwhich established a number of key rights for Inuit on their land, Baffinland must negotiate a benefits agreement with Inuit groups representing the territory’s residents.

Jerry Natanine, the 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 say on projects that could affect their communities.

In February 2021, a group of hunters they blocked access to the mine in protest, braving freezing temperatures for almost a week. Seven hunters, some of whom traveled from Clyde River, used snowmobiles and sleds to block the airstrip and service road to the Mary River Mine when temperatures dipped to -30C (-22F).

“The decision stems from years of disappointment from Inuit organizations that don’t look out for 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. . to them.

Baffinland, jointly owned by ArcelorMittal and private equity firm Houston Energy and Minerals Group, had previously tried to ease concerns about the project, saying it is confident wildlife will not be affected by increased ore shipments. . The company has also touted more than C$2 billion (US$1.5 billion) in royalties paid to Inuit over the mine’s 30-year life.

The company was expected to issue a statement Thursday in response to the federal government’s decision.

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