Maine’s mining rules review may open door to Canadian gold, copper project

Maine’s review to mining rules may open door to Canadian gold, copper project

Bald Mountain, with Greenlaw Pond in the foreground. J.D. Irving of New Brunswick is considering mining the property for gold, silver and other metals here under rules the state is in the process of revising. (Image courtesy of Natural Resources Council of Maine)

The state of Maine is set to review its large-scale mining rules Wednesday, which could open the door for a Canadian conglomerate to build a massive open-pit copper and gold mine at Bald Mountain.

Despite objections from environmentalists, New Brunswick-based J.D. Irving Ltd., Maine’s largest landowner, told it looks forward to the public debate. “We have been doing business in Maine for over 65 years, and our commitment is to responsible operations in the state,” spokeswoman Mary Keith was quoted as saying. “We believe that responsible mining can provide for vital job creation in northern Maine.”

Mining in the state has been stalled for nearly 40 years, but the situation could change if lawmakers approve tomorrow the set of new rules that would open Maine up for large-scale extraction of metals that include gold, silver, copper, and zinc from several known sites.

Long dragged 'battle' for Bald Mountain

Authorities have been debating the issue since 2012, when the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that overhauled mining regulations that had been in place since 1991. The bill called for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to launch a lengthy process of discussions led by a citizen’s board, which unanimously approved a set of rules in January last year.

But Maine’s legislators decided to send the bill back to the DEP, as they found it would jeopardize the environment because it imprecisely defined the size of a mining area and allowed open-ended wastewater treatment, among other issues.

The move was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage who qualified it as an attempt to outlaw mining through rulemaking. Legislators failed to override such veto.

The Irving family, one of Canada’s wealthiest dynasties and owners of Irving Oil — a major crude supplier to Maine — wields a great deal of influence that extends across the border. Together, the Irving’s companies are one of Atlantic Canada’s largest private-sector employers, with over 30 separate businesses ranging from lumber to shipbuilding. The group also holds about 1.25 million acres of Maine forest, according to state records.