New Brunswick

Irving aims to open gold and copper mine in Maine

JD Irving Ltd wants to build a gold and copper mine in northern Maine.

Tough environmental rules mean it would be the first metal mine in 40 years

Irving's mine would be near Bald Mountain in Maine.

JD Irving Ltd wants to build a gold and copper mine in northern Maine.

The company has set up a subsidiary, Aroostook Resources, to pursue the project on Irving-owned land at Bald Mountain.

President Jim Irving is quoted as saying the mine would generate 700 direct and indirect jobs. The unemployment in northern Maine is higher than the state average. The U.S. census bureau puts the poverty rate there at 16.3 per cent.

The mine proposal has the support of Governer Paul LePage.

But restrictive mining rules were introduced in Maine during the 1970s and there have been no metal mines started in the state for almost 40 years.

New mining regulations are now being debated before the state legislature's environment and natural resources committee.

State must protect water, many say

Public hearings on Wednesday brought out dozens of presenters — the vast majority against loosening the environmental rules. 

Nick Bennett was one of them. He is a scientist with the natural resources council of Maine. He says the state's rules make it nearly impossible to operate a mine. "If we don't have very strong regulations, we are going to pay a heavy price for mining here." 

Bennett says the state is known for its streams, rivers and lakes, and tourism is its biggest industry. He says there are high levels of arsenic at the Bald Mountain site which can leach into both ground and surface water. 

"I think it's appropriate for Maine to be a difficult place to get a mining permit. Mining and very high quality fishing for a species like brook trout simply aren't compatible."

In an email statement to CBC, Irving spokeswoman Mary Keith points to sections of the new mining laws.

"Water quality standards in the bill are tough," Keith said. "Any discharge to ground water beyond a mining area must meet drinking water standards or be as clean as the water there today."

'I doubt we will turn them down outright'

The term mining area represents "discrete smaller areas approved by the [Department of Environmental Protection] during the application process", Keith said, and are well inside a mine's property boundary.

Representative Joan Welsh, a Democrat and co-chair of the committee, predicts the mining regulations could pass if there is some tightening of rules around water protection.

"I doubt that we will turn them down outright," said Welsh. "Maine is a very wet state. We have a lot of surface and groundwater, we also have a lot of rain."

Welsh says there remains a lot of work for legislators and it could be a year or more before the regulations are drafted.

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