By Shelly Mountain and Alice Bolstridge, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
Representatives for mining interests continue to lobby the Maine Legislature to weaken mining regulations that would allow Canadian-owned Irving Corp. to mine Bald Mountain in Aroostook County.
In his March 9 radio address, Gov. Paul LePage implies that the residents of Aroostook County wanted weak mining rules but that southern Maine special interests — namely the Natural Resources Council of Maine — and legislators prevented their passage. It is not true. This is not a conflict between southern and northern Maine. It is a conflict between special interests lobbying to allow the destruction of northern Maine for short-term corporate gain and residents of Aroostook County who want to preserve the natural resources of northern Maine that will provide employment opportunities for generations to come.
The governor has made similar remarks at other venues for several years. At one town hall meeting in Aroostook County, when local residents challenged the governor with questions about environmental and economic damage of open-pit mining, LePage claimed that today’s mining techniques eliminate any environmental risk. The governor’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, immediately shut down the meeting when LePage compared mining safety to fracking, saying “Every single, uh, fracking mine, uh, every single fracking, uh, operation in the country does not pollute.” His assertions suggest the governor does not understand the environmental science nor the economic effects open-pit mining creates in local communities.
There are no open-pit mines anywhere that have not polluted local waters, soils and air. At best, any economic benefits for some local residents are temporary. Mines always close when the company goes bankrupt or the minerals have been all mined out. When they close, they leave the local economy devastated. This would be especially true for Aroostook County, where the economy is heavily dependent on sustainable industries of sports, forestry, tourism and farming, which are all adversely affected by a polluted environment. Weakened rules would allow poisons, such as arsenic, to contaminate the Fish River Chain of Lakes, a tourist destination for fishing brook trout.
In all the public legislative hearings about the mining of Bald Mountain that we attended, there have always been many residents of Aroostook testifying against the weakened rules. The only supporters of weak regulations were one local real estate agent, representatives of Irving’s Aroostook mining interests and the executive director of the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce.
Prior to legislative hearings on the bill to weaken the rules, local pro-mining forums in Aroostook County led by Irving consultants and advertised as educational meetings were mere propaganda extolling supposed economic benefits of mining Bald Mountain. In response, Aroostook County residents requested the aid of the Natural Resources Council of Maine to understand the environmental science. They met with us by phone conference over several months and were a great help to us in informing and persuading the Legislature to maintain environmental regulations that would protect this area.
Unlike the industry lobbyists motivated by profit, we are nonprofit lobbyists dedicated to the preservation and restoration of pristine areas like this, where we live. We worked long, voluntary months to understand the issue. We produced our own meetings attracting large gatherings of Aroostook residents concerned about the environmental dangers. We spent our own private money traveling to Augusta to testify.
The governor’s attack on NRCM is disgraceful and utterly without merit. His complete disregard for opinions of these many Aroostook County residents who helped to assure adequate environmental protection indicate he is unfit to speak for the most important issues of Mainers.
Shelly Mountain is a small business owner and stay-at-home mother. She lives in Mapleton and owns a camp at Portage Lake. Alice Bolstridge, Ph.D., a freelance writer and English teacher retired from the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, was born and grew up in Portage, near Bald Mountain.