But he couldn’t get the bill through the Senate, where Democrat Troy Jackson, the assistant majority leader from Aroostook County’s village of Allagash, killed it with the help of a few other Democrats and almost-unanimous Republicans. Jackson’s argument was economic. Irving promised jobs to his poor part of the state.
Nick Bennett, staff scientist for the NRCM, the state’s leading environmental organization, says he hasn’t seen evidence of a mine in North America that hasn’t caused water-quality problems.
An NRCM white paper describes how the last two mines open in the state — the Callahan mine in Brooksville and the Kerramerican mine in Blue Hill, which each operated for a few years during the 1960s and 1970s — both left environmental messes when they stopped production.
Federal and state taxpayers are still paying for the Callahan site cleanup 40 years after it shut down. On the federal “Superfund” list, it’s contaminated with PCBs, lead, arsenic, and other poisons. The estimates of how much the cleanup will cost run into the tens of millions of dollars.
Doubts about mining Bald Mountain are also shared by Lindsay Newland Bowker, former environmental risk manager for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. Bowker, who has retired to Stonington, has devoted herself aggressively to finding and reading the geologic and other studies related to Bald Mountain and has consulted with Cummings and other experts. Recently she plowed through four heavy boxes full of documents at the DEP’s basement in Augusta related to the previous interest in mining the mountain.
At the time of his discovery, Cummings worked for Superior Mining. In the 1980s, Freeport Exploration, Chevron, and Boliden Resources investigated the mountain. In 1995, Black Hawk, a Canadian company, began looking at the gossan’s gold and silver.
Irving has cited $25 million as how much was spent by these previous efforts to look at mining Bald Mountain. There were various reasons none of them led to a mine, but one reason was the expense of dealing with environmental protection.
Bowker, like Cummings, has concluded open-pit mining wouldn’t protect the environment: “It presents a very high risk of irreversible damage to an entire water system.” She adds: “The only approach conceivable is shafts and tunnels,” but they might not be economically feasible.
Irving responded to Phoenix questions about the criticisms made of its Bald Mountain project in a lengthy email written by Mary Keith, its chief public-relations person.
Her reply ignored questions about arsenic and acid. It was mostly a discourse on what an environmentally careful company Irving is. But she made a couple of revealing points.
Jobs Although press reports have commonly used 700 as the number of jobs the mine would create, Keith used the phrase 700 “direct and indirect” jobs.
“Indirect jobs” is an economist’s fuzzy term that could mean anything from someone who works for a company supplying equipment to the mine to a new employee at a sandwich shop serving some of the miners. It’s hard to measure.
It turns out that a direct-jobs number was given in a Bangor Daily News story in 2012. The chief promoter of the bill to relax the mining rules, then-Eagle Lake Democratic Representative John Martin, was quoted as saying there would be 300 direct jobs.
(Martin, the longtime, scandal-tinged Speaker of the House, happened to owe $250,000 to an Irving-family company at the time, according to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. He was defeated in the last election.)