PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — For anyone who is familiar with Maine’s mining history, the recent announcement that there is interest in Bald Mountain’s vast mineral wealth should have caused little surprise.
In fact, one person in particular, geologist John S. Cummings, who discovered and documented the subsurface amount of copper, gold and zinc in 1977, knows that history all too well.
Cummings, 82, was at the forefront of efforts to locate minerals and develop Maine’s mining capacity leading up to the long-awaited regulatory framework adopted in 1991 by the Legislature. By that time, however, the man who was recognized by lawmakers in 1980 for his “commercially viable” discovery, had picked up his tools and moved far away.
Details of Cummings’ experience are well documented in his 2008 manuscript, “Metals in the Maine Earth: The Untold Story of how the Promise of Golconda was Lost.”
The purpose of the 45-page text, he admits, was to “demonstrate that centuries-old ownership of mineral rights in the unorganized lands severely retarded development of mineral resources in the state, and that at such a time as [when] valuable metallic resources were located, corporate and governmental actions combined to eliminate the possibility — for decades on end — of mining viable metallic resources in the state of Maine.”
He called Maine’s mining laws unworkable and “a de facto ban on metal mining” as not a single permit has been issued since 1991.
Although Cummings no longer holds any financial interest in Bald Mountain he is following the recent developments in Aroostook with keen interest.
An Auburn native, his friends and former associates in Maine have called him and sent newspaper clippings.
Contacted last week at his home in Grand Prairie, Texas, the former chief geologist with the James W. Sewall Co. in Old Town was not surprised that efforts are now under way to overhaul Maine’s mining rules. “Something needed to be done,” he said.
Cummings would like nothing more than to see prosperity for Aroostook County and his native state.
In his 2008 report, using 2007-era prices, he estimated the gross value of copper, zinc and gold at Bald Mountain “had greatly outstripped inflation, being between $6 [billion] and $7 billion dollars.”
A copy of Cummings’ manuscript is available at the Mark & Emily Turner Memorial Library in Presque Isle.
An earlier version of this story contained a reporting error. Cummings did not work for the Sewall Co. when the copper, gold and silver deposit was discovered in 1977. He had left Sewall in late 1973 to form J.S. Cummings Inc. Cummings also states that the principals’ contract with J.S. Cummings Inc. stipulated a royalty for any discoveries that he would make.