State rejects plans for Pickett Mountain mine

The Maine Land Use Planning Commission denies a request to rezone land to allow for metallic mining near Baxter State Park.
Activists holding signs to protest against the mining proposal.
Activists gathered in Brewer on Wednesday to protest a planned mine on Pickett Mountain. Photo by Nickie Sekera.

After several years of back-and-forth, regulators on Wednesday rejected Wolfden Resources Corporation’s plans to mine for zinc and copper in northern Penobscot County, a densely forested area east of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

In a 5-2 vote, the Maine Land Use Planning Commission denied an application to rezone 374 acres near Pickett Mountain that would have opened the door to metallic mining in the area by allowing Wolfden to apply for a mining permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Maine, with some of the strictest mining and water quality standards in the country, prohibits digging for metals in open pits larger than three acres.

There have not been active metal mines in the state for decades, and no company has applied for a permit since a particularly strict law passed in 2017. Wolfden was the first company to attempt metallic mining in Maine since the regulations were passed.

Wednesday’s decision was expected. Several commissioners previously expressed doubts about Wolfden’s proposal, worrying whether the company would be able to ensure that nearby land and water had sufficient protections, and had the money to carry out its plans. 

In a 109-page memorandum issued earlier this month, staff at the LUPC recommended that commissioners deny the rezoning request, saying the “project does not represent environmentally responsible mining,” and approving the rezoning would not meet the commission’s obligation to “prevent the despoliation, pollution and detrimental uses of the water.” 

Staff members felt Wolfden had “not provided substantial evidence that the proposed land use districts will have no undue adverse impact on existing uses or resources.” They said approving the proposal “would not be an act of sound land use planning.” 

Members of the Land Use Planning Commission sit at a table.
Commissioners deliberated over a proposal to rezone 374 acres near Baxter State Park to allow for metallic mineral mining. Photo by Nickie Sekera.

Jeremy Ouellette, the Wolfden vice president of project development, said the company had not decided whether it would appeal the decision. He said the denial represented a “missed opportunity” for the state, and took issue with the multi-agency regulatory process, which requires rezoning to be approved before DEP can evaluate a proposal. 

“It’s a little bit of a flawed system,” said Ouellette.

Wolfden officials have criticized the permitting process in the past, calling for changes that would allow the project to come to the commission after a final design was reviewed by the DEP, whose environmental study would be far more comprehensive. 

“It’s an extremely convoluted, tough process. We’re the first ones to give it a shot,” said Ouellette.

This was the second time the company applied to rezone the area; Wolfden withdrew its first application after commissioners indicated they would reject it because LUPC staff said it contained numerous “errors, omissions and inconsistencies.”

Advocacy groups and representatives of Maine’s tribal nations cheered the rejection.

“We are thankful that the LUPC heard and responded to the testimony of Wabanaki people, experts  and the people of Maine by rejecting Wolfden’s mining proposal. This ruling is a great victory for the precious waters and lands of the Katahdin region, and the people that rely upon them for sustenance and well-being,” said Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis in a press release.


Kate Cough

Kate Cough is editor of The Maine Monitor. She previously served as enterprise editor for The Monitor while also covering energy and the environment and writing the weekly Climate Monitor newsletter. Before joining The Monitor, Kate was a beat reporter for The Ellsworth American and digital media strategist for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. Kate graduated with honors from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Magna Cum Laude from Bryn Mawr College. Kate is an eighth generation Mainer, who lives on Mount Desert Island with her husband, daughter, and dogs.
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