A group of about 55 Patten area residents filled the town garage Wednesday evening to hear an update on a proposed mining project for Pickett Mountain.  Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

PATTEN, Maine — A Canadian company is encouraging towns in the Pickett Mountain area to adopt ordinances supporting its proposed mining project.

Wolfden Resources wants to use the ordinances as proof of local support when it seeks a state permit to mine metallic minerals.

Wolfden Resources, an Ontario-based investment group, wants to build a mine on 600 acres in northern Penobscot County, close to the border with Aroostook County and the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. The company promises 300 or more jobs to a rural area where employment can be scarce, but environmentalists are concerned the company’s wastewater treatment plan is not adequate to protect wildlife and fisheries. The project is the first real test of Maine’s strict mining law.

A group of about 55 Patten-area residents gathered at the town garage Wednesday evening to hear presentations from Wolfden, as well as opposition from the Natural Resources Council of Maine. A similar meeting was held in Hersey in mid-June. Moro Plantation is nearby as well. The Patten Board of Selectmen took no action as a result of the presentation.

The company was seeking public support on the mining project before investing between $10 million and $15 million in additional studies and research, including on the impact to soil and water qualities and to the fisheries and wildlife, Jeremy Ouellette, vice president of project development for Wolfden Resources, said during the meeting.

Jeremy Ouellette,vice president project development for Wolfden Resources, speaks to a group of about 55 Patten area residents Wednesday evening, giving an update on the proposed mining project. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

Maine’s mining regulations are among the strictest in the world, and his company would do everything possible to meet those standards, Ouellette said.

“Wolfden is able to and prepared to follow those regulations,” he said. “By doing that, Patten, and Maine in general, can be the shining star in the mining industry.”

Ouellette said the project would create upward of 300 jobs for the local economy, which came as welcome news to several in the audience, as well as to the Board of Selectmen.

The project has faced stark opposition from environmentalists, especially the Natural Resource Council of Maine. Nick Bennett, a staff scientist with the NRCM who focuses on water quality, said he had grave concerns about Wolfden’s ability to meet the stringent water processing and discharge standards that arise from extracting the precious metals from the ground.

Nick Bennett, a staff scientist with the Natural Resource Council of Maine, speaks Wednesday evening in opposition of the proposed Pickett Mountain mining project near Patten. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

Bennett said Wolfden has yet to provide any examples of a mine anywhere in the world that can treat water at the level required by Maine’s strict laws, nor have they proven their own system will work effectively.

Wolfden’s plans for containing and storing the discharge include finding a 50-acre parcel of land and then stacking the “tailings” — a by-product of mining consisting of the processed rock or soil left over from the separation of the valuable minerals — in multiple layers, each protected with a barrier to prevent seepage into the ground, Ouellette said.

That pile, which could be upward of 22 feet high, would be covered with soil and planted with grass and other vegetation at the end of the mining.

Before Wolfden can make any progress, it must resubmit its rezoning application to the Land Use Planning Commission for review. Mining is not an allowed use in the area including Pickett Mountain, so the commission would have to change the zoning to allow it.

The company submitted a revised application to the commission in September 2021, but voluntarily withdrew it when they learned the LUPC had planned to deny it because Wolfden needed to prove that its wastewater treatment plan would work.

If rezoning is successful, the company will seek a permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to pursue the mine. The permit process could take several years.

Sentiments were mixed at Wednesday’s meeting. Some people in the audience, as well as members of the Patten Board of Selectmen, welcomed the economic opportunities the mine would bring.

Patten selectmen, from left, Dennis Kelly, Rebecca Phillips, Gregg Smallwood and Cody Brackett were in attendance for Wednesday evening’s special meeting to hear an update on the Pickett Mountain mining project. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

“People are trying to pay their taxes and find jobs,” said Selectman Rebecca Phillips. “We are a very low- to moderate-income community. If we don’t bring in industry, we are going to die on the vine. I don’t want anything hazardous for my grandchildren, but there may not be any kids left here because there is no industry.”

Those opposed worried that such a venture would forever damage the pristine nature of the region, especially considering so much effort has been put into making the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument a tourist attraction.