Jeremy Ouellette, vice president project development for Wolfden Resources, speaks at a July meeting in Patten. Two communities have signed documents supporting the mining project. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

MOUNT CHASE, Maine – Two communities near a proposed mining operation have declared their support for the project.

The towns of Stacyville and Hersey voted in support of Wolfden Resources, a Canadian mining company that wants to develop a precious metals mine on Pickett Mountain, an unorganized territory near Mount Chase, Hersey and Moro Plantation.

So far, they are the only communities to vote on any measures supporting the mine, although no local action is necessary. The company promises 300 or more jobs in a rural area where employment can be scarce, but environmentalists worry the company’s wastewater treatment plan won’t adequately protect wildlife and fisheries. The project is the first real test of Maine’s strict mining law.

“One common theme in all the town actions regarding Wolfden is that there has been very little outreach, no effort to try to give people information, except by Wolfden and their consultants,” said Mary Alice Mowry, a member of the Patten Planning Board. “They have a sign out front, [but] you would never know they are a mining exploration company.”

Wolfden, an Ontario-based investment group, wants to build on 600 acres in northern Penobscot County, close to Aroostook County and the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Hersey residents voted 11-1 in a special town meeting on Oct. 6 to approve a commercial/industrial mining ordinance. Stacyville’s selectmen passed a resolution in favor of the project.

Town votes are not required for the project, but Wolfden believes municipal support will strengthen its application with the Land Use Planning Commission.

Wolfden must submit a mining application with the Land Use Planning Commission to go ahead with its project. The company withdrew a rezoning application in October 2021, which commission members said contained many errors and inconsistencies. Wolfden has not yet resubmitted its application.

“[Stacyville and Hersey] have expressed interest in hosting the operation’s processing facilities and tailings storage facilities, subject to approvals from Maine’s DEP and conditions respectively enumerated by the towns,” Wolfden officials said in a statement.

Each town is about 36 square miles and contains potential sites where infrastructure could be located to avoid negative impacts to natural resources — water, habitat, visual, noise and air quality, among others, according to the company.

Wolfden’s plan to contain and store discharge includes using a 50-acre parcel of land to stack “tailings” — a mining by-product consisting of processed rock or soil left over after mineral extraction — in multiple layers, each protected with a barrier to prevent seepage into the ground.

The company has not responded to multiple requests for additional information on the project.

Patten officials have not decided to support a mining ordinance, selectman Rae Bates said Monday. The town’s Planning Board will meet Nov. 17 and will consider an ordinance.

Candy Nevers, town manager for neighboring Smyrna and Merrill, said Wolfden hasn’t approached the communities regarding an ordinance. The company also hasn’t reached out to the Aroostook County Commissioners, County Administrator Ryan Pelletier said.

If a new rezoning request is successful, the company then has to obtain a mining permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, a process that could take several years.

The company has been seeking public support and has invested between $10 million and $15 million to research the impact to soil and water quality, fisheries and wildlife, Jeremy Ouellette, Wolfden’s vice president of project development, said at an August meeting in Patten.

Supporters for the project argued the mine could provide new economic opportunities for an area that is severely lacking in new development.

In a press release about the two towns’ votes, Wolfden included statements of support from locals, including Greg Smallwood, a Patten selectman and owner of Smallwood Inc.

“Since day one, the Wolfden team has been nothing but straightforward with the people and businesses of the Patten region,” Smallwood said in statement. “I vouch for the professionalism and character of this company and the project.”

Some residents, however, have strongly   opposed the mine and have conducted public meetings against the project.

Environmentalists, too, have voiced opposition. Nick Bennett of the Natural Resources Council of Maine has said the company 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.