Dreams of excavating mineral riches in northern Maine have persisted since the late 1970s, when a geological survey confirmed significant deposits of zinc, copper, silver and lead in the region.
Since then, mining companies have had their eyes on the Pickett Mountain area north of Patten, but have been discouraged in large part by excavation costs and prevailing metal prices. But new mining regulations and changes in technology have rekindled the interest of one mineral speculator.
This year’s acquisition of the 6,900-acre Pickett Mountain parcel by a Canadian survey company has reinvigorated the debate over mining in northern Maine. But Donald Hoy, president and CEO of the Wolfden Resources Corp. of Thunder Bay, Ontario, told about 75 area residents Tuesday night that while mining could be part of northern Maine’s future, there are still years of test drilling ahead.
“Exploration is in many ways an unknown, a lot of surprises come up,” he said.
Hoy told the audience at the Katahdin Elementary School in Stacyville that the property was purchased because it is part of the same rock formation that runs from the productive Bathhurst Mining Camp on New Brunswick’s north shore. As he outlined the company’s survey and drilling plans that could extend well into 2019, Hoy provided some details about Wolfden’s aerial geological survey technique using a “dreamcatcher” — a 50-foot circle with spokelike sensors that will be guided at low altitudes over the region by a helicopter and will give off a signal.
“That signal is interacting with whatever is in the subsurface, and if there’s a metallic source what happens is that a secondary metallic field is created, and that’s what the receiver picks up, so you’re measuring different properties,” he said. “So discoveries have been made by using the dreamcatcher — that’s why they call it the dreamcatcher. It’s the most recent and up-to-date technology for airborne geophysics.”
Hoy went on to say that his company would be hiring two or three local residents to assist with the surveys right away, and that 10 years from now, a working mine could employ more than 100 people.
While many of those present at the session applauded during Hoy’s presentation, others remained skeptical. Shelly Mountain, a Mapleton resident and a member of the Association for the Protection of Aroostook Waters, said she and others worry that any kind of a mining operation would be a major setback for the region.
Mountain said she’s heard claims before of how mines create jobs, but isn’t swayed.
“I think in Aroostook when this first started, there were probably a lot of people who felt that way, that they were encouraged that there would be employment, but as the meetings went along and people in Aroostook learned more about how there are no metallic mines anywhere that don’t pollute, then I think most of Aroostook is opposed to it now,” she said.
Nick Bennett, a staff scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said the Wolfden Pickett Mountain survey is a very preliminary project with environmental data implications that the company has, thus far, not shared. He said he wants to know more about sulfur levels in the geological formation or what other contaminants, such as arsenic, might be present.
“We need to understand that in order to get a better sense of what the risks are associated with this proposed mine,” he said.
Bennett said the streams in the area are known for their high water quality and that Mainers will want to ensure that current mining and water quality standards are met. That’s a goal that Bennett said could be very difficult to meet for Wolfden or any of its business partners.