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Canadian company resubmits zoning petition for northern Maine mine

Jeff Swallow, left, and Tyler Snelgrove with Downing Drilling of Quebec prepare to restart the drill while working near Pickett Mountain north of Patten on March 7, 2018.
Gabor Degre
Jeff Swallow, left, and Tyler Snelgrove with Downing Drilling of Quebec prepare to restart the drill while working near Pickett Mountain north of Patten on March 7, 2018.

A Canadian mining company has returned to state regulators with a new application to rezone nearly 400 acres in northern Penobscot County for a metallic mineral mining operation.

It's not the first time that Wolfden Resources Corp. has approached state officials with a proposal to rezone land near Patten, and mine Pickett Mountain for zinc, copper and other metals.

The company submitted a rezoning petition to the Land Use Planning Commission two years ago but withdrew it rather than risk rejection due to errors in the application. The previous attempt sparked concern from environmental groups, Maine's tribes and others.

Now Wolfden is proposing a similar project. But this time the company suggests that its tailing storage facilities, which separate metals and store waste rock, would be located elsewhere — likely at another site outside of the LUPC's jurisdiction.

The company has been meeting with officials from nearby towns over the last year to win their support, and according to its most recent application hasn't decided on a location for these facilities. In November, Wolfden announced that it had received endorsements from the towns of Staceyville and Hersey for the mining project so far.

But Nick Bennett, a staff scientist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said a mine anywhere near the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Baxter State Park and critical habitats for endangered Atlantic salmon, is just a bad idea.

"The natural resources in that area are very high-value, so to us the cost-benefit analysis of this proposed mine looks really bad," he said. "It's just not worth the risk to these other resources."

But Wolfden believes that a 10-to-15-year mining project will bring 230 jobs to the region, and that environmental impacts are limited.

"The state-of-the-art, small footprint Pickett Mountain project represents a significant opportunity for new economic growth in an area of the State where economic opportunities are limited," the company wrote in its rezoning application. "Wolfden has been working with residents and businesses in the region to ensure that the project is responsive to the needs of the region and will benefit the people who live and work there."

The LUPC estimates it could take a year for staff to review the application and determine its completeness for processing, hold a public hearing and then issue a decision about the rezoning.

If approved, Wolfden would then have to seek permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection and put Maine's 2017 mining law to the test. The law imposes some of the strictest environmental standards in the country, which Bennett doubts many mining companies — if any — can meet.

"The project will meet those requirements and showcase mining techniques that allow for responsible and safe extraction of metallic minerals that are key to our future," Wolfden wrote.

The Ontario-based company said it plans to extract 432,000 tons a year, generating more than $1 billion in cash flow during the mine's lifetime. It estimates it will cost more than $64 million to develop the mine.