by Jen Lynds, staff writer
Bangor Daily News news story
AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of the Natural Resources Council of Maine say that citizens have stepped forward in force to oppose draft rules for mining in the state.
The proposed regulations, which were introduced in August, have been the subject of controversy since last year when the Legislature passed LD 1853 calling for changes to the state’s mining laws.
Supporters seek to spur economic development by opening up mining possibilities in Maine and in particular on a 500-acre site of Irving-owned land on Bald Mountain, which is northwest of Ashland and Portage. Opponents, however, are fearful of potential environmental damage.
According to an analysis by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, 248 individuals from throughout the state have submitted verbal or written testimony to the DEP opposing the draft mining rules while 16 individuals have spoken or submitted comments in support of the rules. An additional 2,000 people signed a petition submitted by Maine Conservation Voters expressing opposition to weak mining rules.
Pete Didisheim, Natural Resources Council of Maine senior advocacy director, said Friday that he takes the majority of comments against the new rules as a sign that the public is becoming more concerned about the pollution and long-term costs that may be a consequence of metal mining in Maine.
“That explains the strong public comments calling on DEP to revise the draft rules to include stronger protections,” he said. “I think it is noteworthy that people are learning more about the risks to water quality and the fact that they may have to pay for the cleanup of these mines. People are becoming more educated.”
He also said that residents are becoming more skeptical of Irving’s claims that its proposed mine at Bald Mountain would create up to 700 direct and indirect jobs.
“People seem to be doubtful of the economic benefits and more mindful of the environmental impact,” he said Friday.
Jessamine Logan, spokeswoman for the DEP, said that officials from the department had seen the comments, but she added that the draft rules followed state statute and balanced economic stability with environmental protections.
She said the state Board of Environmental Protection is reviewing the draft mining rules and comments presented during an Oct. 17 public hearing and submitted by the deadline a short time afterward.
The BEP met on Thursday in Augusta and is expected to meet several more times before a Jan. 10, 2014, deadline for submitting provisionally adopted rules to the Legislature. Final rules will have to be approved by the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee and then by the full Legislature.
Of the 248 individuals who have submitted testimony to the DEP opposing the draft mining rules, several have expressed concern about the environment or water quality.
“Open-pit mining such as the Bald Mountain project proposed by Aroostook Timberland which belongs to the J.D. Irving Corporation of Canada, destroys or threatens existing environment-based economies and lifestyles,” wrote Pamela and Wayne Sweetser of Presque Isle. “It will require heavy taxpayer investment to contain the inevitable pollution. There is no guarantee or even a convincing promise from Irving that significant numbers of local workers will be ‘qualified’ for employment in the Bald Mountain project. Maine’s clean environment is the basis for viable economic endeavors that depend on our renewable resources.”
“Maine’s environment and economy are inextricably linked,” said Craig Terrell of Portage Lake. “Maine’s rich outdoor heritage and natural scenic beauty is at the heart of our tourism industry, which is a critical part of our economy. Thousands of Maine people depend on our state’s vibrant natural resources to make their living such as guides, lobstermen and sporting camp owners. Poorly regulated metal mining in Maine is a direct threat to those industries and to the natural resources they depend on.”
The draft rules developed by the DEP would apply statewide and would replace rules put in place in 1991.
A spokesman for Irving did not return a call seeking comment Friday.
Last month, the Natural Resources Council of Maine released a report alleging that the DEP did not provide Maine lawmakers or the public with its information that indicates an open-pit mine at Bald Mountain is likely to pollute rivers, lakes and streams with sulfuric acid runoff and arsenic pollution.
The report, “Bald Mountain Mining Risks: Hidden from the Public,” also claims that Canada-based J.D. Irving Ltd. is inflating projections that its proposed mine at Bald Mountain would create up to 700 direct and indirect jobs.
Officials with the DEP said that many of the claims in the group’s document were false and that the department had done all it could to involve lawmakers, inform the public and take steps to protect the environment.