Friday, May 17, 2013

Mining in Maine

I was born in Portage Lake and grew up there.   I own a home on the lake’s shore.  The Hathaway Road that links Route 11 with the north basin of the lake was named for my maternal grandparents who lived there.  I fished in Fish River and in its tributary brooks and streams.  The water systems surrounding the proposed mining site at Bald Mountain were a major source of my family’s protein for much of the year.  In spite of increased levels of mercury, I still eat brook trout from these waters.  I have strong and intimate ties to the area that feed my interests in protecting  the environment for the health and well-being of my grandchildren and yours. 

I have attended 2 public forums on the issue of mining on Bald Mountain in the last year, one at Ashland High School and one at UMPI.  Both were essentially infomercials for the mining industry.  Environmental risks were explained away with propaganda about technical advances that will assure drinking-quality water will leave the mining site.  At the Ashland forum members of the audience were at least allowed to ask questions and express concerns about the environmental risks and the long-term economic impacts.  At UMPI the audience was actively discouraged from participating.  At the beginning we were told only 30 seconds for questions or comments, but the presenters left virtually no time for audience participation. 

I call these presentations propaganda because I have been doing other research on my own, and I can’t find any evidence not linked to economic interests of the industry that their claims are true.  The North Jackson Company, hired to help write the regulations, has close ties to the mining industry.  Page one of their proposal says: “We pride ourselves in our long relationships with two major metallic mining companies” (   How is that not a clear conflict of interest with environmental protection?

Nick Bennett, scientist for Natural Resources Council of Maine, says he is “still looking for an example of a mine closed in the United States that did not leave behind environmental damage or cost taxpayers money”   I, too, want to see those examples.  Why aren’t they readily available?  I am alarmed by Senator Tom Saviello’s claim (in the same BDN article) that “the mining operations will not unreasonably adversely affect existing uses, air quality, water quality or other natural resources.”  How could any adverse effects be reasonable?   If the industry’s claims about the safety of mining are really true, why oppose requirements of LD 1302 to increase protection of ground and surface water, to provide assurance that the mine will not require perpetual wastewater treatment after closure, and to provide an example of a comparable mine that has operated for at least 10 years without polluting ground and surface water?

About jobs and economic benefits to the area, being a limited resource, metallic mining is always, at best, a boom and bust cycle.  The bust attending a mine closure is virtually guaranteed and will come within 20 years in the best of circumstances.  In addition, it’s highly unlikely that Aroostook workers will get many of the jobs that pay $73,000 a year which Irving Inc. promises.  Judging by past Irving promises in Northern Maine (the closing of the Pinkham Mill for instance), it is foolish to trust in the ones they make about mining Bald Mountain.

In the many hours of research I have done, I found no trustworthy evidence that the claims made about environmental safety and overall economic benefits are true.  We need to focus on developing legislation that supports clean, renewable energy, sustainable economic growth, and environmental protection.  LD 1302 attempts to provide some of that protection.