Martin referred to 300 jobs, but in the 1980s an economic-impact study of mining the whole mountain in an open-pit operation stated that only 200 employees would be needed. So the jobs number is, at best, uncertain.

That’s not the only uncertainty.

The big uncertainty Assuming Irving gets what it wants from the mining rules now being rewritten, how sure is it that Irving actually will mine Bald Mountain?

In Keith’s email, she used many conditional phrases: “should the project proceed”; “should we move forward”; “there is no forecasted start date at this time”; the company will “determine the feasibility of mining gold, silver, and copper.”

A reasonable assumption, then, would be that the Legislature weakened the mining laws covering all of Maine merely because J.D. Irving entertained the possibility of developing a single spot: Bald Mountain.
That is a tribute to the power of a big corporation. It’s also a comment on the Legislature.

A little language, a big difference
Environmental groups have several problems with the weakening of the mining law that occurred in 2012. For one, the new law’s language has the possibility that a cleanup will be paid for depend to some extent on the financial strength of a mining company — rather than on a sum of money deposited in a trust fund separate from the company, as the current rules require.

The chief problem, though, begins with the difference between the following two pieces of legal language.

Current regulations:
“A site shall not cause a discharge of pollutants into groundwaters of the State without a license or that violates the groundwater classification . . .”

The 2012 change in the law:
“. . . discharges to groundwater from activities permitted under this article may occur within a mining area, but such discharges may not result in contamination of groundwater beyond each mining area.”

In other words, the simple prohibition of contamination of the groundwater will be changed in the new rules to allow contamination of the “mining area.” So what’s the “mining area”? Here’s the law on that:
“‘Mining area’ means an area of land described in a permit application and approved by the department, including but not limited to land from which earth material is removed in connection with mining, the lands on which material from that mining is stored or deposited, the lands on which beneficiating or treatment facilities, including groundwater and surface water management treatment systems, are located or the lands on which water reservoirs used in a mining operation are located.” (“Beneficiating” means separating the valuable ore from the rest of the rock.)

The NRCM’s Nick Bennett says: “It could allow contamination of groundwater over a potentially very large area. It’s a recipe for disaster.”\

Once contamination begins within the allowed area, how is it going to be prevented from spreading, since water under the ground is connected? “Once acid drainage starts, it’s virtually impossible to stop,” says David Chambers. “It’s going to move. This is especially true in mountainous areas.”

What “mining area” means may be spelled out more when the regulations are finalized by the DEP later this year. “But statute trumps the rules,” Bennett notes.

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  Topics: News Features , Irving, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Bald Mountain
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