Do you want to be a mining town?
Exiro Minerals, out of Toronto and Greater Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, wants to prospect for nickel, copper, and cobalt in 30 square miles of the Georges River Watershed, focusing on land in Warren, Union, and Hope.
The idea of inserting a metal mine operation into our residential communities is crazy! Of course, there are cities that have grown up around mining operations. The City of Greater Sudbury is one of them. But inserting a metal mining operation into an existing residential community in the Midcoast? How would that work?
Unlike places like Sudbury, Ontario, which has had an economy dominated by mining since the late 1800s, the character and economy of our towns depend on the beauty, purity, and serenity of our local natural resources.
Places like Sudbury are accustomed to and dependent on mining, as the largest employer remains a mining company (Vale). They have had to deal with a widespread reputation as a wasteland, acid rain, and many other toxic issues. But its claim to fame is not that people and mining can live peacefully together; it is now known as the place where for the last 40(!) years, it has restored and regreened land that mining operations had made so toxic that all the trees died and the lakes were sterile.
It’s not worth the risk of contamination of mine drainage seeping into our wetlands, ponds and aquifers. Airborne particulates common to mining affect human health, contaminate soil and water, and damage and kill trees and plants. We can’t take the risk.
Let’s be clear about one thing: You can rationally decide that you would sell your property in exchange for the nature and serene beauty of our towns; however, you cannot rationally believe that mining can peacefully co-exist in a residential community that values its small-town character.
Warren, Union, and Hope have 8,700 year-round residents with the number swelling to about 11,000 in the summer.
Warren centers around its village on the St. George River, while Union has its Common green. Hope was named one of the Best Places to Live in Maine by Down East Magazine in 2020. These are quintessential Maine residential towns, each having small businesses, churches, libraries, schools and a character dependent on the beauty, purity, and serenity of our local natural resources. People love living here because it is decidedly not industrial. There are 400 properties within one mile of the 180 acres where Exiro has already obtained rights to explore. There is no possible way these towns can remain the way they are with mining operations in them.
If possible, for a moment, just assume counterfactually that metal mining would pose no risk to the environment and human health. Analyze only how intrusive the physical operation would be.
Take a look at Eagle Mine, where nickel and copper are mined in Michigan. It is a barren, industrial complex the size of 100 football fields in the middle of forest land. We’d have at least one mine complex, maybe more. They are loud and they rumble with the underground blasting. Some mines operate 24/7. Would ours?
At a Warren Select Board meeting in February, Exiro representatives noted that we’d also likely have a milling/processing complex because it would be economical to have one close to the mine sites.
As for smelting, the final metal refining stage, that likely would take place in Canada (maybe Sudbury?) since there are no nickel smelters in the United States. Once smelted, mid-coast Maine’s nickel, copper, and cobalt would be sold to global buyers, maybe American, maybe not. Our towns would, however, be the beneficiary of the mining operation’s tailing storage facility, ours to monitor and care for in perpetuity.
For every ton of metal extracted from a mine, there is 250 tons of toxic waste (tailings). You just can’t make this stuff up.
You can’t just insert a metal mining operation into our towns without completely changing the nature of those residential areas. So, make your decision Warren, Union and Hope. Do you want to be a mining town?
Lori Bailey lives in Union