HOULTON, Maine — Environmental groups in Maine are claiming victory after Wolfden Resources withdrew its rezoning application for a metallic minerals mine at Pickett Mountain last week, but the Canadian-based junior mining company has some good market reasons to pursue its project.
Wolfden withdrew its rezoning application after staff from the Maine Land Use Planning Commission recommended to its nine commissioners to reject the company’s resubmitted form. The commission had raised questions about the initial application. At Wednesday’s hearing to vote on the measure, the commission gave Wolfden the choice to withdraw the application, which Wolfden accepted.
The application process by Wolfden demonstrates the impact Maine’s strict new mining law s, enacted in 2017, have for companies looking to mine in the state. Environmental groups like the Natural Resources Council of Maine consider Wolfden’s withdrawal a result of the new law and a victory for the green movement.
Despite the setback, there may be reasons for Wolfden to remain optimistic regarding mining plans. Metal prices have soared in recent days, especially the price of zinc, which is at its highest level in 15 years. Wolfden has reported finding large deposits of zinc during preliminary drilling of the Pickett Mountain property.
Stacie Beyer, planning manager for the planning commission, said that a voluntary withdrawal by Wolfden, rather than a rejection by the agency, meant the company’s application was not subject to additional land-use commission’s rules in proceeding with the rezoning process.
“If the commission did choose to deny the petition, then there’s a provision in our rules that indicates if Wolfden wanted to submit a new petition for a project on that site, they would have to show it was substantially different or there’s a substantial change in circumstances,” Beyer said.
The price of Wolfden shares, which are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange’s TSX Ventures, tumbled since it announced the commission’s recommendation, dropping about 20 percent in value. Many of Wolfden’s shares have been acquired by larger mining groups, such as Kinross Gold, one of the largest gold and silver mining companies in the world.
Ron Little, the CEO of Wolfden Resources, told the commission during Wednesday’s hearing that he would look to find experts more familiar with Maine’s strict mining laws. He also said in a statement that Wolfden would continue to pursue the rezoning application in Maine.
“Although this is a temporary setback and will draw some negative criticism on the future of mining in Maine, the company is confident it has an approach and path forward for submitting a new application,” Little said.
Little could not be reached Friday for comment.
John Tumazos, a New Jersey-based financial analyst who follows Wolfden, said Friday the new zinc prices could make the Wolfden project still attractive to investors.
“The price of zinc is 70 percent more than when they began planning the project,” Tumazos said. “So the business aspect of the project only looks better.”
The project has drawn controversy across Maine, which has some of the strictest mining rules in the country.
Environmental groups have accused Wolfden of not being able to prove the project has adequate wastewater treatment. They also said the project could pollute the groundwater in the nearby area, which is close to Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and Baxter State Park.
Wolfden CEO Ron Little has also drawn criticism for statements made about Indigenous rights in Maine.