May 24, 2019

Public flight of fancy

The list of serious issues sprouting from the fertile idea of a Maine Woods National Park is impressive, but not nearly as much fun as some of the imagined ones, such as Robert Voight’s flight of fancy about loss of national sovereignty (BDN, Nov. 15). Voight’s attempt to discredit the park idea with the fog of a United Nations takeover of our public lands may indicate his concession on the real issues.

Voight gives far too much credit to his feared “enviros and their friends in government” for shooting down the Yellowstone gold mine proposal. He either doesn’t know, or decided not to share, the full list of those opposing the New World Mine – including the Yellowstone tourism business community, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Corps of Engineers and Montana’s Sen. Max Bauchus, then chairman of the Senate’s powerful Environment and Public Works Committee.

The reasons for the widespread opposition to this mining proposal make dealing with Voight’s fears a walk in the park. The New World Mine, a proposal of Noranda Minerals Inc., a multinational Canadian corporation based in Toronto, would have to remove, by the company’s own estimate, four tons of sulfide rock for every ounce of gold recovered. With an estimated 1.5 million ounces of gold in the targeted area, the earth-moving task would be phenomenal.

Their proposed solution was to build an experimental “bath tub” the size of 70 football fields, ten stories deep. Because the ore is accompanied by large quantities of pyrite, which becomes sulfuric acid when exposed to water and air, the bath tub would have to be monitored forever, a fact admitted by Noranda. This would be impossible in the best of scenarios, when the corporations are domestic. In this earthquake-prone area, flowing into the world’s first national park, the risks are obvious. And, there exists no bonding mechanism that would begin to assure that clean-up costs of the failed experimental bathtub would be covered in perpetuity.

Robert Voight possibly does not know that the location of this proposed mine is on national forest land, where the 1872 Mining Law can override all other uses of the forest, and where mines are not required to pay one cent in royalties to the United States.

Voight is correct in saying that the World Heritage Committee can declare sites threatened and can withdraw the designation, as can those organizations that accredit tree farming and sustainable timber operations. But the claim that the U.N. is somehow interested in taking over responsibility for the integrity of our national parks, and is a threat to all the public lands in Maine, stretches believability. We need to remember that national parks are a uniquely American invention, probably our most successful national export, with nearly every nation now having a national park system.

The rest of the world might rightly expect that our designation of parks really does mean perpetual protection of those lands. And protection of the land is an idea that a majority in Maine seem to favor, regardless of whose designation is used – federal, state or local.

Will LaPage is a resident of Holden.

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