BROOKSVILLE, Maine (Marina Villeneuve/AP) — Think of New England industry, and mills, farms and lobsters come to mind. But the region also has a sometimes-messy legacy of mining and the bill is due.
Taxpayers are on the hook for more than $80 million in cleanup at two mines in Maine and Vermont.
Those mines, along with two others in Vermont, are on the EPA’s list of national priorities. States have to pay 10 percent of such cleanup cost when EPA funds are used.
The Callahan mine in Brooksville, Maine, has a $500,000-a-year price tag for Mainers, and estimates of its remediation cost have ballooned from $23 million to $45 million. Maine lawmakers are pointing to the mine to justify a new bill that supporters say would ensure mining companies never again fold up and leave taxpayers on the hook.
There’s a bit of buyer’s remorse involved. Republican Sen. Tom Saviello noted that Maine officials were “active participants” in the mine.
“We leased them land, permitted it and we actually passed legislation to allow them to go mine,” he said.
New regulations would be “more restrictive than anyone else in the nation,” Saviello said.
In the 1960s, the Callahan Mining Corp., of New York City, drained Goose Pond in Brooksville for an open-pit copper, zinc and lead mine. It made the company about $1 million, was closed after five years and then was flooded by the opening of a dam.
“It’s a crazy place to have a mine,” said Democratic Rep. Ralph Chapman. It’s the nation’s only open pit mine in a coastal estuary system, he said.
Spent shotgun shells and broken appliances lay scattered about a massive pile of waste rock known as Callahan Mountain. Rainwater and snowmelt have long leached metals from a nearby artificial pond made up of the slimy waste produced when separating minerals from rocks.
A 2013 study in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology suggests toxic metals still pose a danger to marine and coastal animals and those who eat them.
Maine’s new bill would require any company seeking a mining permit to set aside funds for the costs of a “worst-case catastrophic mining event or failure.” It would also require a third-party review of the cleanup and restoration estimate.
The bill would affect only future licenses. Callahan Mining was acquired in 1991 by Coeur Mining, which does not believe it’s liable for cleanup costs.
Vermont was the nation’s chief copper producer until the mid 1800s. The closing of the Elizabeth Mine in South Strafford in 1958 brought an end to metal mining in Vermont and left behind contaminated soil and groundwater.
Since 2003, the EPA has repaired a failing dam, relocated mine waste and cleaned up a factory at the site.