By Severine von Tscharner Fleming
The Cobscook Bay is world class. We may be a faraway region without much human density or economic concentration, but as far as fish habitat is concerned we are prime real estate. The rivers flowing into Cobscook Bay, the 22-foot tides, the cold water, the massive seaweed ecosystem and the churning of nutrients drive the herring, drive the mackerel, drive the plankton and drive the whole into a place of marine productivity of global significance.
We have the fattest scallops, the last remaining Atlantic salmon runs, abundant mackerel and herring, enviable clams. So much of our economy is based on natural resource economies from our forests, our bays, fishing, boat building, tourism and recreation, forestry and aquaculture. We live here because of the extraordinary scenic beauty, and now is a time we need to protect what we cherish.
Thanks to the wise stewardship of local residents, fishermen and women, town planning boards, code enforcement officers, the work of indigenous advocates, tireless action of conservationists and the sheer magnificence of nature, we have an abundant and relatively healthy marine ecosystem here. One that we all enjoy.
And the news gets better. The St. Croix River, which is estimated to have had 30 million returning alewives pre-contact, is on the path to recovery. This river will become home to more alewives than the rest of the rivers of Maine combined! Meanwhile the Pennamaquan River and the Machias River and the Denny River continue to receive updated infrastructure, bridges, fishways and fish passage improvement.
But there is troubling news reaching us in Pembroke. A Canadian mining company called Wolfden LLC is all over the internet promoting its plans to develop a “Big Silver” mine just a mile from the Pembroke post office. According to the public reports, “The 100-square-kilometer property contains a silver-rich polymetallic system containing gold, copper, lead and zinc. More than 2,800 drill core samples, compiled by previous operators over the years, average 28 grams per ton silver, with some as high as 2,245 grams per ton.” This was the site of previous exploration by GoldenHOPE LLC and Scinalore LLC, now defunct and bankrupted companies that were looking for gold starting in the 1980s.
According to public data and our reading of the GIS maps released by Wolfden, the site of the previous drilling follows the vein of metal-bearing material up along Ayers Junction Road between Pembroke and Charlotte, and extends northward toward Calais. This area contains at least four streams. The northern one flows north into Ohio Brook, then Pennamaquan Lake, then Pennamaquan River and Cobscook. The eastern two go into Crow Brook, then the Pennamaquan River, then Cobscook. The southern one goes into Willow Brook in West Pembroke, then into Cobscook Bay. The site is also right next to the beloved Round Lake where we all go swimming in the summer.
Even the exploratory mining endangers our water quality and the health of one of the largest coastal aquifers in Washington County.
While we are lucky to enjoy some of the best freshwater fish habitat on the entire Eastern Seaboard, we are not immune from water troubles and shortages. Sipayik and Eastport both struggle with water-quality and access issues. Last summer many wells went dry in Perry. Due to the early dry spring and hot summer with low rainfall many farmers across the state of Maine have had to install drip irrigation for the first time. We cannot take our water for granted.
As Wolfden LLC prepares to come do more exploratory digging this summer thanks to its recent $4 million investment we must get prepared to defend our environment and water quality.
But won’t existing laws protect us from mine explorations?
Unfortunately, the water laws and precedents in Maine were shaped during our early industrial era when water powered mills, paper mills, lumber mills and factories drove the economy here. The 2017 Mining Law was highly restrictive of mining in Maine, but it still does allow mining.
What can I do?
You can read the existing mining laws on the books and follow along with the regulatory process.
You can have your water tested now, for free, to establish baseline data about the current quality of our water. Maine is one of three states whose water law is defined as “Absolute Dominion” doctrine. This has been at the root of many water-related conflicts.
The proposed mine is in the watershed of the Pennamaquan River, a source of local bait and local food and a major habitat for migratory birds, eagles, predators coming for the first food of spring, and of course this is the watershed that all townspeople draw (their water) from through our wells.
Severine von Tscharner Fleming runs Smithereen Farm, a MOFGA-certified farm in Washington County, where she harvests wild blueberries and seaweed and raises gardens, herbs, bees, shitakes and livestock. She also runs Greenhorns, which aims to recruit, support and promote young farmers in America.