AUGUSTA — The Natural Resources Council of Maine on Thursday released an investigative report alleging that Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection did not provide to Maine lawmakers or the public information it has indicating that an open-pit mine at Bald Mountain in Aroostook County is likely to pollute rivers, lakes and streams with sulfuric acid runoff and arsenic pollution.

The report, titled “Bald Mountain Mining Risks: Hidden from the Public,” also claims that Canada-based J.D. Irving, Ltd., is inflating projections that its proposed mine at Bald Mountain would create up to 700 direct and indirect jobs.

A spokesman for Irving did not immediately return a call seeking comment about the NRCM allegations. Jessamine Logan, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said on Wednesday evening that Commissioner Patricia Aho had not seen the report and would not comment until she had an opportunity to digest it.

The NRCM report was released one week before the state Board of Environmental Protection is scheduled to hold a public hearing on proposed draft rules developed as a result of the legislation prompted by Irving. The BEP hearing is set for 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, at the Augusta Civic Center.

Last year, the Legislature passed LD 1853, a bill to change the state’s mining laws. It opened up mining possibilities on a 500-acre site of Irving owned land on Bald Mountain, which is northwest of Ashland and Portage. Last month, the DEP unveiled new draft mining regulations that the agency says are designed to protect the environment while allowing for economic gains.

Pete Didisheim, senior advocacy director for the NRCM, said on Wednesday evening that his organization’s report draws from consultant studies done for two mining companies that in the 1980s and 1990s pursued DEP permits for open-pit mining at Bald Mountain. These documents, secured through Freedom of Access Act requests, include multiple warnings that an open-pit mine at Bald Mountain would be very risky. Didisheim said that both mining companies, Boliden Resources and Black Hawk Mining Inc., ultimately dropped their mining plans for that site.

He also said that technical experts have repeatedly concluded that an open-pit mine at Bald Mountain would be challenging and costly because of high concentrations of sulfur and arsenic that would leach into the environment.

“There aren’t any legislators sitting now who were seated when Bald Mountain was originally being mined,” he said. “So no one can testify to what was happening then. This information should have been brought forward by DEP and put in the hands of lawmakers and distributed to the public, and it wasn’t.”

Didisheim also said that the LePage administration has not allowed any technical or professional staff to testify before the Legislature about the intricacies of mining, only higher administration officials such as the commissioner of DEP or related colleagues.

“That isn’t always helpful,” he said.

The NRCM also identified documents in DEP files that the organization says raises questions about job estimates being made by Irving about the Bald Mountain mine project. Boliden estimated about 80-130 jobs for a full-scale open-pit mine at the site, and Black Hawk estimated 75 jobs for a smaller mine. Irving has said that the mine would generate up to 700 direct and indirect jobs. Didisheim said Wednesday that Irving has refused to release to the public the analysis used to reach its jobs estimate.

“We’ve made four or five requests and asked for the study or other paperwork that shows where they got that figure,” he said. “They have refused to show us. They have never shared more than a sentence about that 700 jobs figure. We don’t believe it is credible. At the same time, a mine is not something that is operating full time. Usually, it runs for five or six years and then it shuts down, the workers move on to another mine and then the residents are left to clean up the mess.”

The full report and background materials are available at www.nrcm.org.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: