New opportunities for Aroostook County

By John Martin, Special to the BDN
Posted March 09, 2012, at 3:19 p.m.

For more than 50 years, Maine has been a national leader in restoring and protecting our precious environmental resources. This effort was and continues to be a reflection of our residents’ desire to live in a state that respects the elements essential to a healthy environment — clean air, clean water, fertile land, abundant forests and flourishing wildlife.

We cherish our outdoor heritage, a heritage that allows us to farm, fish, hunt, hike, swim, ski and boat throughout our beautiful state. This is what Maine is all about.

Just as important, we understand the relationship between a healthy environment and a strong economy. So many of our industries, especially our largest, tourism, depend on our natural resources. Protecting these resources and our environment has always been a priority for me as a legislator.

As many folks in Aroostook County will recall, 20 years ago I worked to enhance Maine’s mining laws and rules as a result of potential mineral deposits discovered at Bald Mountain, northwest of Ashland and Portage.

At that time, the laws and rules adopted by the Legislature made sense. But since then a lot has changed. We have further strengthened our environmental protection laws. Mining technology has advanced significantly. Mineral prices have been rising.

The state, once again, needs to clarify our mining laws. That is why I am sponsoring legislation that will result in more sensible, environmentally sound mining regulations that will encourage responsible mining activities.

If adopted, the new laws will revitalize this industry in Aroostook County and allow us to contemplate a more vibrant economy.

Mining development at Bald Mountain will bring 300 direct, good-paying jobs as well as hundreds of indirect jobs to The County. The result will be a total of more than $600 million in employment income. We will also see more than $120 million in state and local taxes.

These are significant numbers for any region but especially for Aroostook County.

For almost 50 years, I have worked to sustain our Aroostook way of life while cultivating economic development in The County. I know, as you do, how critical new jobs and income are to the economy of Northern Maine.

Every day we learn about more businesses closing, programs shrinking and jobs being lost — permanently. Our unemployment rate is higher than other counties. Our families must move away to find work. Our young people are taking their skills to other parts of the state.

With this legislation, we have an opportunity to stop some of the bleeding. We have an opportunity to keep people at home rather than losing them to jobs elsewhere. We have an opportunity to create jobs that typically pay higher-than-average wages.

I mean it when I say — none of this would matter if mining activities compromise the precious streams and lakes or any of our other valuable resources around Bald Mountain. We will not diminish the quality of our natural habitats and valuable ecologies for this or any industry.

The legislation provides for strict protections of waterways as well as land near and around mining activities. The bill, while streamlining current regulations, provides for public input on mining proposals and vigorous review by state agencies.

As those of us who live here, as well as all of you who visit us, know, Aroostook County is a special place. We care about our neighbors and our communities. We take pride in our land and our environment. We work together every day to make Aroostook County an even better place. This legislation will provide one thing that is sorely missing — more jobs with good wages.

John Martin is a Democrat from Eagle Lake who represents District 1 in the Maine House of Representatives.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/03/09/opinion/contributors/new-opportunities-for-aroostook-county/ printed on August 20, 2014