State hires Michigan firm for mining regulations rewrite

Posted Nov. 19, 2012, at 12:41 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 19, 2012, at 3:33 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has chosen a Michigan firm to help the agency carry out the first major rewrite of the state’s metallic mining regulations in two decades.

The DEP announced Monday it has chosen the North Jackson Company, based in Marquette, Mich., for the $175,000 job. S.W. Cole Engineering — which is based in Maine and has offices in Augusta, Bangor, Caribou and Gray — will work with North Jackson as a local subcontractor.

The selection of North Jackson is the result of legislation passed earlier this year that calls for a major update to the state’s mining rules and transfers all mining permit responsibilities to the DEP from the state’s former Land Use Regulation Commission. Legislative debate on the bill focused on Bald Mountain in Aroostook County, where landowner J.D. Irving has said opening a mining operation to recover the mountain’s gold, silver and copper deposits could create 700 jobs.

The legislation allowed the DEP to go to an outside firm for help with updating the mining regulations and set aside $500,000 to cover rulemaking costs. Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, who earlier this month lost his bid for re-election to Republican Mike Nadeau of Fort Kent, sponsored the legislation.

The North Jackson Company was the only firm that responded to the DEP’s request for proposals issued over the summer. The DEP asked for a firm with “recent and successful experience with metallic mining operations” to play a major role in rewriting state rules that set permit requirements for metallic mining.

“Minerals can be recovered in a way that keeps our air, land and water clean, and Maine’s outdated mining rules needed to be modernized to reflect that,” DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho said in a news release announcing the award. “Our selection of partners with reputations for providing reliable technical information through rigorous science that allows their clients to make sound environmental management decisions demonstrates this process is one we take seriously.”

The North Jackson Company, according to its website, works as a consultant for government and industry, helping clients with environmental assessments, securing permits and other services. The company has extensive experience with mining operations and helped the state of Michigan with a similar rewrite of its mining rules, according to the DEP.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has recently seen a spike in mining activity as worldwide demand for precious metals has grown. A handful of new mines have opened in recent years, and additional mining permit applications are pending.

Maine’s current mining rules took effect in 1991, and the state has received no applications for mining permits since the rules have been on the books.

Advocates for rewriting the state’s mining regulations argued that the rules stymied the development of a mining industry in Maine and that they are in need of an update to reflect current mining technology and practices. Environmental advocates, however, say the lack of mining activity in Maine until now has been the result of market pressures.

Environmental advocates have also said they are concerned by the prospect of an outside firm with mining clients being charged with rewriting the state’s mining rules.

The DEP points out that the North Jackson Company will report to DEP staff, and the mining rules would take effect after going through the state’s formal rulemaking process, which involves public hearings, the state Board of Environmental Protection and approval by the Legislature.

According to the DEP, the updated mining regulations will address ground and surface water protection, management of waste rock and measures to assure that companies hoping to mine in Maine have the financial backing needed to clean up the site when mining operations are complete.

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