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

(Continued from page 1)

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

Both opponents and supporters of mining law revisions have acknowledged that the long-foundering economy in northern Maine could be boosted by mining, which would create jobs and generate indirect income for ancillary businesses, such as restaurants, motels and retail stores.

Estimates have projected from 150 to 700 jobs around Bald Mountain, a region where unemployment ranges from 10 percent to 20 percent, said Bob Dorsey, president and CEO of Aroostook Partnership for Progress.

"I don't know if (the law) will hurt the environment or that it will help the economy," said Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, one of the sponsors of the original bill. Jackson opposed any changes, but promised Monday that he would fight the new law if the rulemaking process does not result in adequate environmental protections.

"There's a balance and a trade-off," he said. "The environment of Maine must be protected."

Numerous advocacy and environmental organizations, including the Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Council of Maine, and Maine Audubon, lined up to ask the committee to review the new mining law and consider a range of options to curb what they see as the potentially damaging environmental impacts of mining.

Several environmentalists were in accord with backers of the new mining law, saying they did not want to kill the possibility of mining in Maine, but wanted to be certain the job was done right.

"I suspect that mining can be done pretty safely -- if you have the money," said Nick Bennett, staff scientist at the Natural Resources Council. "It's very expensive."

If mining cannot be done safely at a cost that is acceptable to the companies, that may affect their decision to come to Maine, Bennett said, "but that's not our fault. The provisions in L.D. 1302 are steps ... and reasonable."

Some mining opponents backed a moratorium on the industry's operations in the state and asked the committee to make certain that mining proposals are thoroughly reviewed by experts in geology and engineering who have no ties and no financial incentives toward specific findings.

"Be extremely careful," said Elery Keene, a retired engineer and planner from Winslow. "Employ someone who is independent. ... Clean water is more important than gold, silver and copper."

North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

ncairn@mainetoday.com

 

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