ASHLAND, Maine — More than 70 residents of Ashland and surrounding communities gathered together Thursday evening to hear further details and ask additional questions about the potential of developing a mine at the Bald Mountain site in Aroostook County.
Such a development has the potential to create up to 700 direct and indirect jobs, Anthony Hourihan, director of land development for J.D. Irving Woodlands, told the crowd at Ashland Community School.
J.D. Irving Ltd. owns the 500 acres on Bald Mountain 15 miles west of Portage in partnership with Aroostook Timberlands, LLC.
Earlier this year, the Legislature approved a bill that will update the state’s mining rules and regulations. The state Department of Environmental Protection recently hired a firm from Michigan and another from Maine to assist in revising the rules. The process provides several opportunities for the public to provide comments before the regulations are finalized sometime in 2014.
Aroostook Timberlands will determine the feasibility of mining gold, silver and copper near Bald Mountain once new mining rules are in place. While awaiting the final regulations, the company will use current technologies to update and supplement the existing geological data on the site. The company also plans to learn more about current best practices around water management and treatments as well as decommissioning and closure.
“Should we move forward, we would ensure, as the legislation specifically states, that water leaving the site will be drinking-water quality,” said Hourihan. “And, before we even begin, we would be ready with a plan to properly close the site.”
Hourihan said Friday that he spent time at Thursday’s meeting talking to attendees about the types of jobs that could be created at such a mining development. They include mapping and photography, mineral and environmental sampling, drilling and trenching and construction.
To develop the workforce required to revive the state’s mining industry, Hourihan suggested establishing a mining center of excellence using the University of Maine system and Northern Maine Community College.
Attendees also were informed about a high-level assessment by economist Charles Lawton of Planning Decisions that determined that mining at the site could potentially generate up to $120 million in state and local taxes.
“Overall, I think that people at the meeting looked at the issue positively, but at the same time that was tempered with the sentiment that it had to be done right,” said Hourihan. “Everyone seemed to want to weigh risks versus rewards.”
Hourihan also has met with groups such as the Northern Maine Development Commission, Aroostook Partnership for Progress and Leaders Encouraging Aroostook Development.
At this point, there are no other community meetings scheduled in The County, but Hourihan said that could change based on requests from municipalities and groups.