April 30, 2013

Testimony: Environment key in Maine mining rules

As the DEP writes regulations to implement a new law, backers and opponents urge legislators to protect the Maine landscape.

By North Cairn ncairn@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA - In 2006, when Lynn Taylor bought Coffin's General Store in Portage Lake, considered the oldest continually running country store in Maine, she had four cash registers, 12 employees and six grades of gas.

click image to enlarge

Bald Mountain, with Greenlaw Pond in the foreground, is owned by J.D. Irving of New Brunswick, which is considering mining the Aroostook County land for gold, silver and copper deposits. The debate on mining in Maine often pits the possible positive impact on the economy with the potential for environmental damage.

2012 Staff File Photo

Today, although she is still open every day of the year, the store -- which has been in business since 1902 -- is down to a single cash register, one full-time employee and one "very part-time" worker, Taylor said. And she sells only three grades of gas.

She's convinced that mining at Bald Mountain in northern Maine could turn that trend around, she told state legislators Monday at a public hearing on proposals to repeal, limit or otherwise change Maine's year-old mining law.

But not everyone agrees.

Taylor was one of nearly 100 Maine legislators, residents, lobbyists and researchers who crammed into the public hearing to weigh in on a law passed in 2012 that altered mining regulations in the state and, some argue, relaxed the permitting process. Opponents have argued that it was rushed into law without sufficient opportunity for public comment, and that it lacks adequate protection for the environment, water and air quality.

Proposed changes would address various environmental and fiscal concerns that have surfaced since the Department of Environmental Protection began working late last year on drafting new rules for permitting and mining operations in the state. The proposals include L.D. 1059, An Act to Protect Maine's Environment and Natural Resources Jeopardized by Mining, which would repeal last year's law; L.D. 1302, An Act to Amend Maine Metallic Mineral Mining to Protect Water Quality; and L.D. 1324, An Act to Protect Local Communities When a Mining Project is Terminated.

Many of those appearing Monday before the committee supported L.D. 1302, sponsored by House Majority Whip Jeff M. McCabe, D-Skowhegan, which calls for four revisions to the law that would:

n Seek to improve protection of groundwater at mining sites by requiring that the operation not pollute groundwater.

n Provide financial protection for taxpayers by requiring applicants to cover the cost of a third-party evaluation of how much money would be needed to safely close a proposed mine.

n Require that a mining operation be designed so that it would not require perpetual treatment and maintenance if it closed.

n Require any applicant to identify a mine elsewhere in the U.S., in a climate and geologic setting similar to Maine, that operated at least 10 years without polluting groundwater or surface water.

There was little support for the bill that would repeal last year's mining law. Most speakers, including supporters and opponents of allowing mining, focused their comments on the need to move cautiously before permitting mining operations to ensure there was no irreparable, continuing environmental damage.

One key point of contention at the hearing was whether to allow the DEP to continue drafting the rules, or to put amendments in place first. The new rules, which are being written by the DEP in consultation with a private contractor that has ties to the mining industry, will apply to any company that applies for a permit to carry out metallic mineral mining in the state.

No applications have been received so far, DEP officials have reported, but J.D. Irving of New Brunswick has expressed interest in mining at Bald Mountain in Aroostook County.

Although most of the debate on open-pit mining in Maine has centered on Bald Mountain, other areas of the state -- including the western foothills, the Moosehead Lake area and Cobscook Bay -- have been shown to hold metallic mineral deposits.

(Continued on page 2)

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