by Chris Facchini
WCSH-6 TV news story
AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — To some, Maine’s mountains are natural treasures that should be left unblemished. To others, some mountains represent opportunities, jobs, and profits. Right now, Maine environmental regulators are trying to find a middle ground between these competing interests. Thursday, the Board of Environmental Protection resumed hearings on what would be sweeping new regulations on mining in Maine. While the rules would apply to all proposed mining in the state, one proposed project is being used as a jumping off point. Maine’s largest landowner, JD Irving, Limited wants to dig an open pit mine on Bald Mountain in Aroostook County. The company says it’s looking for deposits of gold, copper, silver and zinc which were found there back in the 1970’s. Irving says the mine would create up to 700 jobs. Others say that number would be closer to 20. It’s been two decades since Maine’s mining regulations were changed and despite push-back from environmentalists and landowners near the site, The BEP is going ahead with making at least some of those changes.
Nick Bennett, a staff scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine is asking regulators to change some of the proposed rules, chief among them, he says, is one which allows mining companies 30 years to clean up a site after it’s been closed.
"What we would like to see is no more than 10 years of treating polluted wastewater after closure that will force mining companies not to make a big mess up front," said Bennett.
That was also a concern echoed by Jeff Reardon, the Maine Brook Trout project coordinator for Trout Unlimited.
"If you’re treating one of these sites after it’s been closed that means there’s a problem," said Bennett. "And it you start by saying we’re going to allow that for 30 years our concern is that drifts into perpetuity."
Regulators with the Board of Environmental Protection are hearing these concerns and others as they go over the proposed rules at public hearings like this one. It will be up the Board to strike a balance in the draft rules. Officials with JD Irving did not respond to our calls Thursday for comment. Once the Board of Environmental Protection has finalized the rules, they will go to the legislature for a vote.