Aroostook County mining bill gets initial approval in House, Senate

Posted April 13, 2012, at 11:16 a.m.
Last modified April 13, 2012, at 9:15 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to change the state’s mining laws received initial approval in the House and Senate on Thursday evening and was undergoing additional review in the House late Friday evening.

Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, said that the House vote was 80-65 in favor of LD 1853, An Act To Improve Environmental Oversight and Streamline Permitting for Mining in Maine. The Senate voted 21-14 in favor of the bill. The next step is for the bill to be reviewed in both chambers again.

Martin said Friday that he hoped the bill would pass both chambers again before the Legislature adjourned Friday evening. If so, it would head to Gov. Paul LePage.

Martin submitted the bill in early March, saying he was prompted to introduce it because of the increasing price of minerals and the potential for mining gold, silver, copper and zinc on Bald Mountain in Aroostook County.

Bald Mountain is northwest of Ashland and Portage in Martin’s House district. J.D. Irving owns the land with Prentiss & Carlisle.

Under the bill, the state Department of Environmental Protection would be in charge of permitting and regulating such operations. The required rulemaking by the DEP likely would not begin until at least January 2014.

Martin said reports indicate that mining development at Bald Mountain could directly create up to 300 jobs and hundreds of indirect jobs. There also would be an excise tax on the minerals there, so the result would be more than $600 million in employment income and more than $120 million in state and local taxes, he said.

Environmental and conservation groups maintained their stance that lakes, streams and groundwater could be poisoned near Bald Mountain if there is not adequate public scrutiny or debate.

Martin said earlier this week that several amendments were made to the bill to protect groundwater and ensure that the mining process is even more environmentally sound. The amendments also include requiring more documents and maps in permit requests and making provisions for the state treasurer to set aside a portion of excise tax revenues from mining operations to pay for overseeing mining activity.

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