Bald Mountain update provided at APP/LEAD breakfast

12 years ago

By Kathy McCarty
Staff Writer

PRESQUE ISLE — Mining at Bald Mountain was the featured topic at the 2012 annual presentation of Aroostook Partnership for Progress and LEADers Encouraging Aroostook Development’s annual breakfast.

Topping APP President Bob Dorsey’s list of highlights for 2012 was the progress that’s been made in Augusta with regard to mining.

“APP supported the mining legislation that went before elected officials earlier this year. Mining (at Bald Mountain) could potentially create 700 jobs and $45 million in gross domestic product in Aroostook County over 15-20 years,” said Dorsey, noting the mining issue will continue to make its way through the legislative process over the next year.

“This is a big deal for the County,” said Dorsey.

Anthony Hourihan, director of land development for J.D. Irving Limited, served as guest speaker for the Thursday morning meeting, held at the Northern Maine Community College’s Edmunds Conference Center.

Hourihan gave an overview of Irving’s business commitment to Maine and, in particular, Aroostook County.

“Irving has over 60 years of forestry operations in Aroostook County, with 1.25 million acres of timberland in Maine. Irving Woodlands LLC accounts for 70 percent of tree planting in Maine,” said Hourihan.     

Irving’s primary activities in the state to date include fertilizer distribution and potato farming, rail transportation, lumber, forestry and logging, noted Hourihan.

With those industries come jobs.

“Those industries employ 339 direct employees across the state, with 45 percent higher wages than the Maine average. In addition, there are 1,480 indirect jobs, including logging contractor positions, associated with Irving’s presence,” Hourihan said.

In 2011, Irving generated $79 million in direct and indirect employment, with $30.6 million in capital investment from 2007-11 and $41 million in local purchases.

“Across the state, J.D. Irving is growing as a company, with most of it focused in Aroostook County,” he said.

Hourihan spoke of Irving’s voluntary conservation efforts and the company’s focus “on getting it right.”

Working with research partners, Hourihan said “The push is on now to use the best science” to ensure environmental standards are maintained while the company provides good-paying jobs.

Hourihan said Irving sought expert advice with regard to mining at Bald Mountain.

“Economist Charles Lawton of Planning Decisions prepared a high-level economic impact assessment. Lawton determined mining development at the Bald Mountain site has the potential to create up to 700 direct and indirect jobs in Aroostook and has the potential to generate up to $120 million in state and local taxes,” he said.

Development of a large-scale mining operation in Aroostook has other potential positive financial impacts as well.

“Processed ore from the site would be trucked off road to rail sidings in the Portage area and be moved on the state-owned rail line. Ore could be shipped through ports in Maine (i.e. Searsport) to be smelted offshore. A facility at Bald Mountain may require upwards of 20 megawatts of electricity, creating opportunities for under-utilized wood waste generating plants in the County,” said Hourihan.

Hourihan said Maine has established the framework for permitting, using one agency and one approach to mining in the state, now that Gov. Paul LePage has signed LD 1853, An Act to Improve Environmental Oversight and Streamline Permitting for Mining in Maine, which passed both chambers of the Legislature earlier this year and was approved by the governor in April. Hourihan said Rep. John Martin (D-Eagle Lake) was one of the bill sponsors and was present for the signing, joined by Sen. Tom Saviello, Senate chair of the Environmental and Natural Resources Committee and member of the Regulatory Fairness and Reform Committee.

“The process entails vigorous oversight to protect nearby land and waterways while making mining and its associated economic development more realistic,” said Hourihan. Under LD 1853, permitting is consolidated at DEP (Department of Environmental Protection), with LURC (now LUPC) responsible for zoning in the unorganized territories.

“There are no changes to groundwater or surface water standards in the state. Water leaving the site will be drinking water quality. LD 1853 also requires significant assurance that landowners/developers have the financial and technical ability to not only mine but fund appropriate closure,” said Hourihan.

Hourihan provided a timeline of the path forward for the Bald Mountain project.

“Proposals were due to the DEP by Aug. 28 for firms to undertake writing rules. Oct. 15 marks the contract start date for mining rules development. The first draft would be submitted to DEP by February 2013, with DEP officials finalizing their review and submitting it to the Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) in May 2013,” said Hourihan.

Public hearings and the comment period would tentatively be scheduled around July 2013.

“The revised final draft would go to DEP in September, then the BEP provisional adoption of the revised rules would occur in November 2013. The legislature’s review of the provisional mining rules would take place in January 2014,” he said.

Hourihan said current data on Bald Mountain dates back 25-30 years.

“Data needs to be revisited with current technology and practices to help determine economic viability of a mine,” he said.

Environmentally, company officials want to “get better educated on current best practices around water management and treatments to determine how the site can be developed without impacting water quality off the site,” said Hourihan. “We also want to understand current best practices for decommissioning and closure of the site after the life of the mine has ended.”

“Folks today have economic and environmental ties to this. It can be done right in an environmentally responsible way. The owner (J.D. Irving) won’t do it if it can’t be done right,” said Hourihan.

Looking forward, Hourihan said company officials will continue to “monitor and review the rule making process to ensure the process is driven by an outcome-based system based upon science and recognized best practices.”