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

PATTEN, Maine —Questions about whether towns surrounding a Canadian company’s proposed mining project at Pickett Mountain should be eager to lend their support and the potential long-term environmental impact of the project were among those that townspeople asked Thursday evening.

A group of about 50 residents met with environmental officials from the Natural Resources Council of Maine for about two hours at the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum.

The community meeting, hosted by Patten residents and not officially by the town or its select board, focused much of its discussion on the potential detrimental impact the proposed metal mining of Pickett Mountain could have on the area’s natural water system.

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.

Because the project is located in an unorganized territory, a rezoning application had to be filed with the Land Use Planning Commission. The company withdrew that application in October 2021 when it learned the LUPC was likely going to deny it.

Requirements to prove its wastewater treatment plan will work have hampered the company’s quest for a mining permit. 

Wolfden has been visiting towns surrounding Pickett Mountain this summer to gain their support by getting them to consider establishing mining ordinances. The company’s quest for a mining permit has been hampered by requirements to prove its wastewater treatment will work.

A view of Pickett Mountain, the location of a proposed metallic minerals mine, from nearby Pleasant Lake. Credit: Courtesy of the Natural Resources Council of Maine

Nick Bennett, a staff scientist for the Natural Resource Council of Maine, said he had been involved in mining issues in Maine since 2011 and was one of the key people involved with creating Maine’s mining law.

“When I first moved to Maine in 1997, I never thought I would be dealing with mining,” he said. “We are not a state with a huge history of mining, but it has been a big part of my work now for a decade.”

Bennett said the NRCM was relieved when its members heard Wolfden had withdrawn its zoning application, but was surprised to learn the company was meeting with residents in the small communities of Hersey, Moro, Patten and others, trying to get them to draft mining ordinances.

Bennett said his biggest worry was promises Wolfden Resources was making to these smaller communities that there would be no environmental impact and that any wastewater discharged from its treatment facility would be “equal to or better than natural ground water.”

“There is not a hard-rock mining company in the world that can do that,” Bennett said.

Robin Hadlock Seeley of Pembroke said Wolfden’s promises of job creation were similar to ones the company gave when it was looking to do a similar mining project in her town. Residents of that community overwhelmingly rejected the company and passed an ordinance to prohibit industrial-scale metallic mineral mining operations within the town.

Dan Kusnierz, the water resources program manager for the Penobscot Indian Nation, said the Penobscot Indian Nation was deeply concerned about any proposed mining project because of the potential damage that can be done to local bodies of water.

“Clean water is of the utmost importance to tribes,” he said.  “They view the water differently. They think of the Penobscot River and Matagamon Lake as living relatives to them. It is not just a resource. We have major concerns about Wolfden, primarily with threats to water quality.”

Only one person, Teri Hill of Shin Pond, asked if it would be more prudent for towns to wait and let the licensing process play out before passing judgment on the proposal.

“I want to be positive,” Hill said. “Why don’t we just let the process happen? Then we will have the real answers (for wastewater issues).”

No officials from Wolfden Resources attended the gathering.