by Chris Fachinni
WCSH-6 news story
AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Are proposed updates to Maine’s mining laws a pathway to economic prosperity in parts of the state that need it badly, like Aroostook County or are they too weak to protect our prized natural resources from harm? That’s is what state lawmakers on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee must decide as they hear from people on both sides of the issue.
Madonna Soctomah, a representative of the Passamaquoddy Tribe stood before lawmakers in the packed public hearing room Monday urging them to reject changes to the states current mining laws. She spoke of the tribes connection to the land and the waters, and fears what will happen if this bill becomes law.
“My people do not have the best of health. Our level of health is below the national norm, our level of health is below the state norm percentages, so it’s very important that we fight to keep the earth the water and the air clean,” she said.
Nick Bennett, a staff scientist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine has been studying the issue for the past two years. He’s concerned that the proposed mining rules would not do enough to keep waste water contamination from getting off any mining sites and he fears if companies fold, taxpayers of Maine will get stuck cleaning up the mess.
“You should certainly not allow mines that know they have to treat their waste forever. If the answer to that question is yes we have to treat our waste forever then the answer to the mine should be no,” Bennett explained.
But the other side of this equation, is the jobs and opportunities. Anthony Hourihan represents Aroostook Resources, a subsidiary of JD Irving Limited which owns land in Maine on Bald Mountain. They believe that land sits atop a trove of metals including Gold Copper Silver and Zinc. And if that’s the case he says the region would benefit economically.
“300 to 400 jobs on site with the potential to create 300-400 indirect jobs so the potential to create 700 jobs from that one project here in the state,” he said.
And to people in a region desperate for jobs, that’s hard to overlook. Theresa Fowler of the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce, has seen too many good paying jobs leave, like those at Maine Military Authority in Limestone. She’s confident the DEP will ensure the environment is protected. And to those critics from away worried about the impact to the areas lakes, rivers, and woodlands…
“As I said to one of the people at another meeting if you don’t have industry we’re not going to have people their to cook your meals and make your beds when you want to come visit.”
The Environmental and Natural Resources Committee heard testimony from dozens of people over a span of several hours Monday. The Committee will take it up one more time for a work session before voting on it.