Patten residents voted on Thursday night to support the Wolfden Pickett Mountain Mining Project. Credit: Kathleen Phalen Thomaselli / Houlton Pioneer Times

While Wolfden was garnering non-binding support from towns in order to attract investors, the Canadian mining exploration company missed a Maine Land Use and Planning Commission application deadline in March, according to state officials.

This is the latest in a long string of delays by Wolfden for its proposed Pickett Mountain mining project near Mount Chase, the first test of Maine’s stricter mining laws. Late Friday afternoon, the company filed the LUPC requested information on the number of jobs, underground operations, traffic and water irrigation.

This is Wolfden’s second stab at garnering Maine Land Use Planning Commission rezoning approval for a 374-acre parcel of the 7,135-acre Pickett Mountain project.

In January, the junior mining company filed a second rezoning application with the LUPC, following the withdrawal of a 2020 rezoning attempt riddled with inconsistencies and missed deadlines. In February, the LUPC asked Wolfden  for more information about the proposed underground mining operation, again citing application inconsistencies and missing information.

After failing to meet the March 24 deadline, Wolfden asked the LUPC for an extension, said Jim Britt, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry communications director.

“Wolfden requested an extension and understands that delays may impede the process, which includes sending the application out for review and scheduling a public hearing.” Britt said.

LUPC staff will review the new submission and determine if the rezoning application is ready for review by other state agencies, federal agencies, and the agency’s consultants, state officials said in a release.

In response to the LUPC questions regarding the spraying of mining wastewater onto area land, Wolfden engineers compared the system to town water treatment plants spraying sewage onto fields. They said they will spray treated water from the mining operation, emulating rain and snow, over 31 acres and seven of 17 wetland areas.

Patten and Mount Chase residents have long expressed concerns about that process.

Patten Planning Board member Joel Fitzpatrick, who owns Katahdin Brew Works, worries 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,” Fitzpatrick said in February. “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.”

Nonetheless, Wolfden continues to court towns with promises of local high-paying jobs and a huge boost to the local economy, often  pitting local residents against each other.

On Thursday night, Patten residents voted 75 to 46 to pass a Wolfden-created resolution to indicate town support. The vote was two days after Wolfden held a town party at the Patten office for residents, according to Susan Cullen of Mount Chase, who saw the party while working at a local deli.

Wolfden did not return calls regarding the event.  

Conversely, last week Mount Chase residents voted to reject the Wolden resolution 15 to 14.

During the Mount Chase town meeting resident Bill McCaffrey told residents about a property he and Susan Cullen own in Daggett, California, outside Barstow. It is 50 miles from the Mountain Pass Mineral Mining site.

“We were just there and there is no potable water,” he said. “The mountain is gone. It is barren like a desert with rotting grass.”

Towns have no authority to approve the mine. According to Maine law, Wolfden must first garner LUPC rezoning approval, then seek a Department of Environmental Protection mining permit before any mining can take place.

There is always controversy around mining, said University of South Carolina Associate  Professor of Geography David Kneas, who has been studying the language and behaviors of junior mining companies in Canada and around the world for many years.

Investors hate conflict, Kneas said.

wolfden mining resolution challenges

The work of junior mining companies like Wolfden is primarily exploration. They rely heavily on investments they get on the stock market. They want to keep that investment interest going. If one mining company isn’t looking good they will just invest elsewhere, he said.

“When I would go to these mining conferences almost every company would say, ‘Oh, local people are behind us, they love us,’ and they paint this picture of happy locals,” he said.

While researching a mining conflict in Ecuador, Kneas noticed some of the language junior companies use do not add up. People tend to assume that the money is there and these powerful mining companies will actually mine the minerals, but that is seldom the case, he said.  

Junior mining companies for the most part do not run mining operations; they are exploratory by nature and they live or die on what they do on the stock market, Kneas said. If successful, junior mining entities often sell out or partner with larger mining companies, so promises made on a local level are not binding.

Several local residents do not believe Wolfden’s promises and question the company’s ability to actually complete the project.

The people have spoken, but unfortunately, there was no education or discussion at the last meeting, said Ron Blum, Patten health officer and chairman of the Patten Planning Board.

“Residents obviously came with firm opinions already established,” Blum said. “While it is highly unlikely Wolfden will ever operate a mine near Patten, the details and facts were irrelevant to the emotions.”

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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...