Thomas Doyle, an attorney representing J.D. Irving's subsidiary, Aroostook Resources, testifies before Maine's Board of Environmental Protection.
The proposed mining rules developed by staff at the DEP would apply to any mining operation in Maine. But everyone at the Board of Environmental Protection's public hearing understands that what's really involved is the future of Aroostook County.
There is currently no mining application from the New Brunswick-based subsidiary of the J.D. Irving Group of Companies, but the company owns 500 acres on Bald Mountain, where gold, silver and other valuable metals can be found in its bedrock.
Phil Daggett owns a sporting lodge about 15 miles away. He supports the possibility because he says Aroostook County's economy is on its last legs.
"This is certainly an opportunity to take a really good look at what we can do to foster more opportunity and more businesses," said Phil Daggett. "And certainly if there's ever a time that we need to step forward and work on this issue, it is now."
And "now" can't come soon enough for Portage Lake realtor Barbara Pitcairn.
"Our town is starving for economic growth, our county is starving for an opportunity to support itself, its communities and its citizens," Pitcairn said. "Bald Mountain project can offer us this opportunity."
That's why Pitcairn and other supporters of the Bald Mountain project want the BEP to develop new statewide mining rules that would not discourage Irving from investing in Bald Mountain. The company's subsidiary, Aroostook Resources, Inc., is represented by Thomas Doyle, of the Pierce Atwood law firm. And Doyle says several of the rules developed by the DEP might do just that.
One rule in particular that he wants changed is a provision that specifies that only cash can be used to fund a financial insurance mechanism to ensure that mining companies have the financial resources to cover the costs of financial cleanups. Doyle says that's not how the system works in other states.
"There's no reason, for example, not to allow a surety bond or an irrevocable letter of credit from a strong financial institution to serve as a funding mechanism for a mining operation providing any mining waste," Doyle said. "This is routinely allowed around the United States."
Doyle also took aim at those who support tough mining rules that he says harbor an ulterior motive.
"Understand that their goal is to establish such stringent standards, and create so many obstacles, to metallic mineral mining in Maine that no project will ever move forward at Bald Mountain or elsewhere," Doyle said.
But Nick Bennett, a staff scientist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, takes issue with Doyle's assertion - even though he opposes the proposed rules.
"If you have good standards for mining, then I think we can have mining in Maine," Bennett said.
Bennett says the NRCM wants to ensure that any mining company will maintain a financial insurance fund large enough to cover any damage that its operations might cause to land, water and air quality. He also wants the BEP to strengthen rules to keep groundwater contamination to a minimum, and to develop a regulatory structure for mining that is less sprawling and more focused.
That lack of clarity makes Aroostook County residents, such as Shelly Mountain of Mapleton, suspicious - even when she gets an offer from the head of the Irving operation that wants to build the mine.
"Jim Irving promises that when all is said and done, he will drink the water from Bald Mountain - that's not reassuring to me at all," Mountain said.
The state Board of Environmental Protection must report its new mining rules back to the Legislature by Jan. 10.
Photo: A.J. Higgins