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, 2018. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

HOULTON, Maine — In a major setback for Wolfden Resources’ plans to build a metallic minerals mine in northern Maine, Maine Land Use Planning Commission likely will reject the Canadian company’s rezoning petition next week for the Pickett Mountain mining project.

The planning commission’s staff tasked with reviewing the petition cited dozens of errors, inconsistencies and Wolfden’s failure to provide information in a recommendation to the nine-member panel Thursday to reject the proposal. The staff requested the additional information in February 2021 and Wolfden submitted it in September. Staff also said Wolfden was lacking sufficient evidence to prove it met regulatory criteria for a zoning change.

The planning commission’s pending decision is the first example of the hurdles mining companies have to face in Maine in the wake of laws the state enacted in 2017, considered to be some of the toughest mining laws anywhere in the country.  

“As a result of these deficiencies, it is the staff’s opinion that scheduling a public hearing on this Petition within the time required by the LUPC’s rules (45 days) would not assist the Commission in reaching its decision,” the staff memorandum said.

The plan to build the mine has attracted opposition in environmentally conscious Maine, with groups such as the Natural Resources Council of Maine saying the proposed mine does not have a plan for waste water treatment. Wolfden CEO Ron Little had also come under criticism for statements made to investors about indigenous rights in the state of Maine.

Wolfden claims the project could bring jobs to towns in the Katahdin area, such as Patten, which have unemployment rates higher than the state average.

“We are obviously disappointed with this setback as the proposed project with its state-of-the-art designs and study work, in our opinion, have the potential to meet the requirements of the 2017 Maine Mining Code,” said Little. “We will review the memorandum of the LUPC and decide how best to proceed with the permitting process for this economically attractive project.”

The planning commission had requested additional information from Wolfden in February, including more detailed information on waste water treatment. Wolfden requested an extension on the petition until submitting one in September, which increased the number of acres to be rezoned from 528 to 646.

But in Wolfden’s most recent petition, it acknowledged that some of the data and projections it included may still be inaccurate.

The NRCM had urged the planning commission to reject the updated petition, saying that Wolfden’s plan to build the mine near prime fishing waters, as well as close proximity to Katahdin Woods and Waters and Baxter State Park, was harmful to the environment.

“Wolfden has neither strong technical experience, having never operated a mine, nor strong finances,” NRCM scientist Nick Bennett wrote in the organization’s letter to the planning commission. “Wolfden’s inability to respond to requests for information in a timely manner, lack of mining experience and lack of financial capacity alone should disqualify Wolfden from receiving a rezoning.”

The Land Use Planning Commission will meet to formally vote on whether to approve the petition on Oct. 13.