Mining near Baxter State Park isn’t appropriate

By BDN Editorial Board

The staff of the Land Use Planning Commission has recommended in a draft document rejecting a rezoning request that would open the door to a mining plan at Pickett Mountain. To protect the region’s waterways and its burgeoning tourism economy, this is the right decision.

Commissioners are scheduled to meet next week to vote on a rezoning application from Wolfden Resources Corp., a Canadian mining company that wants the zoning change to allow a metallic mine at Pickett Mountain, which is near Baxter State Park and Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Consideration of the rezoning application has involved numerous meetings, filings and public hearings, where lots of opposition was heard. After its review, the planning commission’s staff have recommended denying the rezoning application because Wolfden has failed to show that it could adequately protect the water in the region, which is home to several important fisheries. The company had failed to show that the short-term economic benefits of a mine would outweigh the potential long-term environmental damage, staff said. Also, commission staff expressed skepticism that Wolfden could meet the environmental, water quality and remediation standards that the company pledged to fulfill.

“[C]onsideration of the project requires weighing the predicted socioeconomic impacts against the risk presented to the environment,” the commission staff wrote in their Feb. 2 memo. “… the risk to water resources of extraordinary high-value is substantial, and Wolfden has failed to demonstrate that it can effectively mitigate this risk. Accordingly, in light of the commission’s conclusion that any positive socioeconomic benefits from the project are likely to be diminished by the short-term nature of the project and difficulty in reaching Wolfden’s stated goals of local hiring, the commission concludes that the adverse impact to existing resources posed by the project would be undue.”

This is a straightforward decision. The area around Pickett Mountain is home to some of the state’s highest classification waterways, which also contain vibrant fisheries. The Katahdin region is also becoming a hub for outdoor recreation. These could be threatened by a metallic mining operation, on land that is not currently zoned to allow mining.

This is an important consideration for us. Wolfden bought the land near Pickett Mountain knowing that it was not then zoned for mining. A zoning change to allow mining needed to meet a high threshold to prove there would be no undue adverse impacts. The commission’s staff have found that this standard wasn’t met, so the zoning change should be denied.

As we wrote late last year, we are well aware of the dangers of allowing “not in my backyard” opposition to squelch too many projects in Maine. However, Wolfden’s mining proposal has raised too many red flags.

“Let’s consider this particular project, and this particular backyard,” we wrote in December. “To us, the obvious conclusion is that such a mine does not belong in the backyard of tribal lands and vital watersheds, or in Baxter State Park’s backyard. It’s not the right proposal for the region, especially considering the LUPC’s guidelines related to ‘no undue adverse impact on existing uses or resources,’ and it does not deserve rezoning approval.”

Simply put, this is the wrong project in the wrong place, and this rezoning request should be denied.

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