December 14, 2012

Council: Mining rules contractor 'misrepresented' credentials

The Natural Resources Council also says the Michigan company has long-standing links to mining operations and shouldn't be updating Maine’s mining rules.

By North Cairn
Staff Writer

The Natural Resources Council of Maine on Thursday renewed its attack on the Department of Environmental Protection's selection of an out-of-state contractor to help modernize Maine's mining rules.

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Bald Mountain, with Greenlaw Pond in the foreground, is the site of mineral deposits that Irving, which owns the property, would like to mine. The Natural Resources Council of Maine on Thursday renewed its attack on the Department of Environmental Protection’s selection of an out-of-state contractor to help modernize Maine’s mining rules, alleging that both the contractor and the DEP had “misrepresented” the company’s credentials, experience and ties to the mining industry.

Courtesy photo

The council alleges that both the contractor and the DEP had "misrepresented" the company's credentials, experience and ties to the mining industry.

The council's criticism of North Jackson Co. of Marquette, Mich., takes aim at the company's links to large-scale mining operations, its client list -- which includes worldwide mining companies -- and its claim that it had been involved in guiding the state of Michigan in a similar revision of mining rules. North Jackson was the only company to bid on the $178,000 contract in Maine.

The Legislature passed a law last year directing the DEP to rewrite the state's mining rules. There are no active mines in Maine, but one landowner, J.D. Irving, has expressed interest in mining the gold, silver and copper deposits believed to lie under Bald Mountain in Aroostook County.

In announcing the choice of North Jackson last month, the DEP said the company was chosen "because they have experience not only with mineral mining activities through their consulting work, they also helped Michigan -- a state with similar climatic conditions to Maine -- with a comparable mining rule updating process."

But Pete Didisheim, the council's advocacy director, said the description of North Jackson's experience in Michigan rule revisions "stretches credulity beyond the breaking point."

Samantha DePoy-Warren, spokeswoman for the DEP, defended the agency's selection of North Jackson but said DEP officials "don't want to get into a point-counterpoint" exchange over the council's allegations.

"We feel fully confident with the contractor," she said, and are committed to a process that will rely on "sound science and current best practices."

Michigan created a working group of state officials, mining representatives, environmentalists, landowners, legislators and others to revise that state's mining rules in 2005-2006. A three-page list of the Michigan group participants, distributed by Didisheim, does not include North Jackson.

One member of the group, Marvin Roberson, a forest ecologist with the Sierra Club, said in a phone interview Thursday that he attended all 28 of the group's meetings. He said North Jackson was "not at the table" for any of them.

"They were not participants, they were not in the room," Roberson said.

Dan Wiitala, North Jackson's chief financial officer, confirmed that North Jackson itself did not directly participate in the Michigan work. He said that an engineer who did participate, and was representing a mining company at the time, has since been hired by North Jackson as a subcontractor to work on the Maine project.

It was on the strength of that engineer's involvement in the Michigan job that North Jackson presented itself as an experienced bidder for the Maine work, Wiitala said.

The engineer, John Meier, participated in the Michigan work on behalf of Cleveland-Cliffs, Inc., a leading producer of iron ore pellets for the steel industry. Meier could not be reached for comment Thursday.

In the proposal it submitted to the DEP, North Jackson listed several of its clients in the mining industry. They include Rio Tinto, a British multinational metals and mining corporation; Cliffs Mining Services, a Fortune 500 multinational company; and Tilden/Empire Iron Mine of Marquette, Mich.

"This firm is a captive contractor beholden to some of the world's largest mining companies," Didisheim wrote in a letter delivered Thursday to DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho.

(Continued on page 2)

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