Opponents contend that the Maine DEP’s proposals would not protect the environment but supporters say the rules would strengthen, not weaken, existing regulations.
AUGUSTA – The fight over mining returned to the State House on Wednesday as dozens of people urged lawmakers to once again reject proposed rules linked to a Canadian company’s plans to extract gold and other minerals from a northern Maine mountain.
In a repeat of hearings held on an identical proposal last year, lawmakers heard eight hours of testimony from about 70 speakers focused largely on whether mining represents an economic opportunity or an environmental threat to Maine.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is seeking legislative approval of new rules that supporters say could help revive the state’s all-but-nonexistent metal-mining industry while protecting the environment. But critics, who accounted for the vast majority of speakers on Wednesday, argued the proposals do not go far enough to protect water from mine contamination or to hold companies accountable for long-term cleanup of sites.
“Weakening existing mining regulations is bad policy,” said Jim Gerritsen, who grows organic potatoes on a farm roughly 40 miles from Bald Mountain, the site of what is believed to be one of Maine’s largest mineral deposits. “Our priority must be protecting Maine’s environment.”
Bald Mountain wasn’t officially on the agenda Wednesday but that didn’t stop opponents from drawing a direct line between the rules and the Aroostook County mountain. Located in a remote spot roughly 35 miles west of Presque Isle, Bald Mountain has been on the radar screen of would-be mining companies for decades because of significant deposits of gold, silver and other metals.
New Brunswick-based J.D. Irving Ltd., which owns Bald Mountain and more than 1 million acres in Maine, has been seeking revisions to the existing rules, which have all but eliminated metal mining in the state since their adoption in 1991.
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