Maine is blessed with an abundance of clean, pure waters in our rivers, streams, lakes and ponds. And it’s no accident, considering our healthy, well-forested watersheds and strong rules and programs like the Land for Maine’s Future helping to protect them.
Now, that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has sent proposed rules back to the Legislature (LD 17772) for review, The Nature Conservancy has raised concerns about the harm they could cause our state’s clean waters and conserved lands.
As an organization, The Nature Conservancy works to ensure that when mining is conducted throughout the world it is carried out in appropriate places and that the right processes are taken to ensure effective permitting with appropriate safeguards. In the western United States, for example, the Conservancy is working to ensure that strong ecological protections are in place as mining projects are undertaken.
But the Conservancy believes that several significant issues remain with LD 1772 and that these are sufficiently important to recommend against the rules approval by the Legislature as currently written. They include:
1. Conservation Land – Maine citizens have a long, cherished history of investing tax dollars into conserving the state’s best lakes, rivers, streams, mountains and other natural areas. These places provide opportunities to hunt, hike, fish and camp. They are often working farms or working forests. Since 1987, Maine voters have gone to the polls six times to emphatically say yes to replenish the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) program. Each time it has passed with more than 59 percent of the vote, winning in more than 80 percent of Maine towns.
As written, the rules allow open pit mines directly next to or on some lands owned by the Bureau of Parks and Lands and next to conservation land held by land trusts, conservation groups or municipalities – even those lands purchased with funding from the Land for Maine’s Future program. This includes some 61,460 acres held by the Bureau of Parks and Lands and some 71, 430 acres funded through the LMF program.
National and state parks, national wildlife refuges, state-owned wildlife management areas, public reserved lots, state or national historic sites and Maine’s 346 great ponds receive a one-mile buffer in the rules. However, the applicant may demonstrate that there are topographical features that provide sufficient protection of the resource, the environment and public health and safety. In these circumstances, the buffer can be as little as one-quarter mile.
Given the importance Maine taxpayers and voters place on the Land for Maine’s Future program and its role in ensuring the state’s quality of life and its wildlife habitat, these conservation lands should receive the same one-mile buffer.
2. Water Quality – The rules must ensure that there is strong water quality and quantity provisions or Maine will face contamination from arsenic, lead and other toxic chemicals often found associated with the deposits that are being mined and that can be released when sufficient safeguards are not employed. The watersheds that feed our lakes, rivers, ponds, streams and brooks are some of the cleanest and healthiest in the country. These waterways provide extensive habitat for a wide variety of fish and wildlife species (such as brook trout, great blue herons, moose, bald eagles, alewives, a host of migratory birds and many other species) and also high-quality drinking water. They also provide some of the best recreational opportunities in the world. Protecting our water quality should be one of the state’s highest priorities.
As they currently read, the rules explicitly allow mining to occur in the floodplain. Given the potential negative impacts to water sources, mining operations should never be sited in a floodplain unless the applicant can demonstrate the particular proposed activity does not present a significant risk to the environment. This protects the resource, Maine citizens and the state and to do otherwise creates a significant opportunity for contamination of our waterways.
3. Performance Standards – the Conservancy also has concerns about performance standards related to the state’s ambient air and water quality and the lack of provisions to establish an ongoing monitoring program.
We hope the Legislature will act accordingly to protect Maine’s precious water resources.