Company lacks financial resources to mine safely – taxpayers would be on the hook for costly cleanup

August 12, 2020

By Ramona du Houx

Maine’s Baxter State Park draws visitors from around the world. Mt. Katahdin is scared to indigenous tribes. The hills, paths, valleys, lakes, streams, and waterfalls are places of solace, solitude. They are where thousands reconnect with Mother Nature, with themselves and loved ones. The worst thing that could happen to the park would be pollution seeping in insidiously from a mishap made by some corporation nearby. That’s why many are worried about Wolfden Resources application to mine.

The application for a proposed metal mine on 528 acres near Mount Chase, not far from Baxter State Park and the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, contains serious flaws and offers no assurances for adequate environmental protection according to state’s leading environmental group, the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM).

The blistering feedback comes as the Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) is slated to discuss its July 27 decision to mark the rezoning petition from Wolfden Resources (Wolfden) as complete, despite the application’s many well-documented flaws.

“Wolfden is making unrealistic claims about its abilities. It’s become clear that Wolfden would never be able to meet the very strict requirements of Maine’s mining law,” said NRCM Staff Scientist Nick Bennett. “The LUPC should reject Wolfden’s proposal because the company has not provided honest and timely information and does not understand or respect Maine’s mining law and rules. The company also lacks the financial resources to mine safely, which would likely leave taxpayers on the hook for costly cleanup.”

NRCM detailed the serious questions about Wolfden’s petition for rezoning to build a mine and ore processing facility in a letter sent to the LUPC in June, including:

  • Failure to prove it can treat wastewater adequately. Because there are no streams near the proposed mining site that are large enough to put in wastewater discharges (Maine law prohibits discharges in streams with watersheds less than 10 square miles in area), Wolfden would need to  discharge to groundwater, a precious resource that quickly makes its way to streams, rivers, and lakes. To do so, it would need to treat wastewater to be as clean as natural groundwater, but the company has provided no example of a comparable mine that can do this, despite the LUPC repeatedly asking for one.
  • Disrespect for Maine’s mining law and rules. Wolfden has proposed disposal of tailings paste in closed mine tunnels and shafts many times despite repeated reminders from the LUPC that this is not allowed under Maine’s mining rules. When NRCM confronted the company about this issue, a Wolfden official stated that Maine’s rules were poorly thought-out on this front, despite the fact that Maine’s mining laws and rules took years to craft and that the Department of Environmental Protection specifically prohibited this practice because of the high risk of contamination it poses to groundwater.
  • No documented financial capacity as required by law. Because mining is a such a demanding and dangerous industry, only companies that have strong financial positions can do the job well. The financial statement from the company’s initial rezoning petition admits it does not have adequate funding.

“Maine cannot afford to have mining companies here that would work on the cheap and leave Maine taxpayers paying for cleanup,” continued Bennett. “The world is full of examples of disastrous, contaminated mining sites that will cause perpetual pollution because the companies involved did not have the resources necessary to mine safely or pay for cleanup. Wolfden has every appearance of being one of those companies, and Maine’s environment and taxpayers would suffer because of it.”