Jeff Swallow, left, and Tyler Snelgrove with Downing Drilling of Quebec prepare to restart the drill while working near Pickett Mountain north of Patten on March 7. They were contracted by the Ontario-based Wolfden Resources Corp. and began test drilling near Pickett Mountain in December. Drill core samples will help company researchers analyze the feasibility of opening a mine near Pickett Mountain, in remote northern Penobscot County. They are primarily looking to mine zinc, but lesser amounts of copper, lead, silver and gold were also present in the deposits. Credit: Gabor Degre | BDN

HOULTON, Maine — The Natural Resources Council of Maine, one of the largest environmental groups in the state, recently raised several concerns regarding a proposed metal mine on Pickett Mountain, located near Mt. Chase and the town of Patten.

The mine has been proposed by Wolfden Resources, a Canadian company based in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Recently, Wolfden’s petition to rezone 528 acres of land around Pickett Mountain was accepted as complete by the Land Use Planning Commission, part of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

The LUPC will now review the petition, followed by a public hearing process before a final decision is made on the project.

Nick Bennett, a staff scientist and healthy waters director at the NRCM, said he was skeptical of Wolfden’s claim that wastewater from the mine project could safely be discharged into the area’s groundwater — a water resource for many nearby streams, rivers and lakes.

“They are proposing to put in [a facility] which includes actually taking the ore from the mine and processing it into metal concentrates, which is a very dangerous activity with lots of toxic chemicals,” said Bennett. “There are no mining companies in the world that can treat waste from that process to be as clean as natural groundwater.”

Bennett said the NRCM, as well as the LUPC, repeatedly had asked Wolfden to provide an example of a mine that could do this, but they failed to do so. Failing to treat wastewater cleanly could cause “tremendous damage” to area ponds and trout streams, potentially reaching nearby Baxter State Park and Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

“The world is filled with examples of mining companies that try to strike it rich somewhere, doing mining on the cheap, cause a big disaster then declare bankruptcy. And it’s left to the public to pay the cleanup costs,” he added.

Ron Little, president and CEO of Wolfden Resources, said such claims regarding the wastewater discharge amounted to “misinformation.” He said the project would have minimal impact on the surrounding environment, and that wastewater would be sent into a septic field to be cleaned and recycled.

“It’s going to be a very tiny footprint,” said Little. “A lot of the old mines weren’t done the way they are today, so it’s up to us to explain what we’re doing. It’s all designed by independent engineers that are qualified to do this.”

The proposed location of the wastewater treatment plant has been relocated to further reduce potential impact on freshwater wetlands, according to an Aug. 6 LUPC memorandum. The proposal submitted to the LUPC does not say how Wolfden will ensure that the wastewater will be treated so that the result is comparable with the existing groundwater.

On Nov. 16, 2017, Wolfden Resources purchased a 6,871-acre parcel of timberlands north of Patten for $8.5 million with the goal of developing a mine for copper, zinc or other valuable metal minerals. Pickett Mountain is one of the highest-grade polymetallic projects in North America, according to the company.

On July 8, the company announced plans to start a fully funded 5,000-meter drill program on Pickett Mountain to test new targets identified by recent exploration of the mountain.

Staff reporter Joseph Cyr contributed to this report.