Patten Planning Board member Mary Alice Mowry talks to the board about a Wolfden ordinance during a February planning meeting. Credit: Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli / Houlton Pioneer Times

PATTEN, Maine — The Patten Planning Board has not been convinced by a Canadian mining company’s promises of prosperity in support of an ordinance in favor of a Pickett Mountain project, recommending a town-wide vote on a resolution instead.

Planning Board concerns center on a distrust of Wolfden’s promises related to the mine’s effect on water quality, housing for mine employees, noise and road use and are at the heart of the town’s reluctance to sign onto anything.

Wolfden is asking towns to approve the proposed commercial mining ordinance to support Wolfden mining activities in their respective towns. But it is not actually an ordinance because there is nothing to regulate — it is a public relations document, Patten Planning Board Chairman Ron Blum said.  

“Under the guise of transparency, they have made veiled promises of benefits to all the area towns — especially financial to the town governments — that have the feel of bribery,” Blum said Sunday. “It is clear now that they were soliciting community support to enhance their application and perhaps influence their investors.”

Unlike Patten, the Town of Hersey passed the Wolfden ordinance late last year; Staceyville approved a similar resolution in November.  

Patten Planning Board Chairman Ron Blum talks to the board about a Wolfden ordinance during a February planning meeting. Credit: Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli / Houlton Pioneer Times

This is Wolfden’s second stab at garnering Maine Land Use Planning Commission rezoning approval for a 374-acre parcel of its 7,135-acre Pickett Mountain Project. And it is the first test of Maine’s tough new mining law, viewed as one of the nation’s most stringent.

Following a 2021 LUPC rebuke of their re-zoning application, Wolfden withdrew, promising an improved return.

For months, Jeremy Ouellette, Wolfden’s vice president of project development, has been knocking on doors, wooing area town officials and peddling the ordinance for approval.

Additionally, Wolfden recently initiated a community advisory panel, according to Ouellette, who said the panel meetings will be open to the public. Ouellette declined to name the panel members or the location of the initial March meeting.

“The panel members will be introduced in early March,” he said.

Members of the Patten planning board and several other town leaders were not aware of the new panel.

Patten Planning Board member Joel Fitzpatrick is concerned about the watershed if Wolfden gets approval for the Pickett Mountain project. Credit: Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli / Houlton Pioneer Times

After recommending the Patten Select Board not approve or re-write the Wolfden ordinance, the Planning Board sent a resolution regarding the Wolfden mine back to the Select Board and has recommended the town vote. Planning Board Chairman Blum cast the dissenting vote.

Blum thought there were inaccuracies in the resolution, he said.

“Wolfden promises to adhere to all the current mining regulations. Even if one could trust them to do so, the regulations have never been tested,” Blum said.

The company, considered a junior mining exploration company, reported a $39 million loss and current reserves of $1.8 million, according to Wolfden’s recent financial filings.

The company will need millions more for the LUPC application and subsequent mining initiatives. State regulations require mitigation funding for unplanned disasters.

In mining stock trading there are junior mining stocks and major mining stocks, junior stocks are considered a high-risk investment because the companies have been in business for less than 10 years, have lower capital assets and not well established, according to analysts.

Additionally, Wolfden states in financial reports that there is no assurance they will succeed.

“The Corporation is limited in financial resources, and as a mineral exploration company has no source of operating cash flow. The Corporation has no assurance that additional funding will be available to us for further exploration and development of our projects or to fulfill our obligations under any applicable agreements,” the company reported in a financial analysis. 

Nonetheless, some Patten selectmen said last week they trust Wolfden and believe the mine will ignite town prosperity.

“I’m a small business owner and a town councilor in Patten and I vouch for the professionalism and character of this company and the project,” Patten Selectman Greg Smallwood said in a Wolfden press release.

Planning board members like Blum, Mary Alice Mowry and Joel Fitzpatrick, said they disagree, finding the company’s promise of employing 270 local workers and vows to protect the area’s large watershed implausible.

“I wish I could believe that there is a pot of gold here. There is no pot of gold here,” Patten Planning Board member Mary Alice Mowry said last week.  “Here is this company that just talks magically.”

Former Patten Town Manager Don Grant is opposed to a Wolfden mining proposal. Credit: Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli / Houlton Pioneer Times

Mowry spent most of her career as a state planner in Minnesota.

Wolfden touted local endorsements in a November press release and on its Toronto Stock Exchange page.  

Wolfden’s current LUPC application said its processing facility and tailings storage facility will not be located on the LUPC regulated land.

And Ouellette said they have not yet decided where these facilities will be located.

Nick Bennett, Natural Resources Council of Maine staff scientist, said that the processing facility and tailings storage locations are critical. Tailings are the toxic remains in the bottom of the tanks, he said.

Several EPA Superfund clean-up sites are tied to the improper disposal of zinc-mining tailings, like the Tar Creek Mine in Oklahoma. When mining ceased, waste remained on site, leaching into the soil. Additionally, rain flooded underground tunnels, spilling acidic water into the environment.

“I’m opposed to the whole concept,” former Patten Town Manager Don Grant said on Thursday.  “I’m concerned about this because of the amount of water that surrounds the whole project.”

Patten Planning Board member Joel Fitzpatrick, who owns Katadhan Brew Works, is concerned about the watershed and wonders how the company will employ local people.

“The bad news is, if things do go amok, the watershed up there is humungous. It is so vital to the area,” he said. “It’s not only Patten, it’s going to be Bangor, Belfast, Calais. It’s not just a small vein of water. Does it concern me? It sure does.”

Avatar photo

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli is a reporter covering the Houlton area. Over the years, she has covered crime, investigations, health, politics and local government, writing for the Washington Post, the LA...