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New England confronts messy mining legacy

  • A deteriorating tank sits on the site of the Callahan Mine in Brockville, Maine, on Dec. 21. AP file

  • In this Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016 photo, a sign warns of contaminated land at the site of the Callahan Mine in Brockville, Maine. The former open pit mine, now a federal Superfund site, has caused elevated levels of toxic heavy metals in the Goose Pond estuary, according to a study. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty

  • In this Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016 photo, a sign warns of contaminated land at the site of the Callahan Mine in Brockville, Maine. The former open pit mine, now a federal Superfund site, has caused elevated levels of toxic heavy metals in the Goose Pond estuary, according to a study. Mining companies that once pursued precious metals, copper, iron and other ores have abandoned half a million mines across the country and, thanks to decades of lax regulations, left the bill to taxpayers. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty

  • In this Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016 photo, a a landfill is seen at the site of the Callahan Mine in Brockville, Maine. Ongoing cleanup at two mines in Maine and Vermont has cost taxpayers more than 80 million so far. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty



Associated Press
Saturday, May 13, 2017

Companies that once pursued copper, iron and other ores have abandoned half a million mines nationwide and left the cleanup to taxpayers, thanks to decades of lax regulation. Though the vast majority of such mines are in the West, 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 Environmental Protection Agency’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, widely supported bill that would ensure mining companies never again fold up and leave taxpayers on the hook.

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,” Democratic Rep. Ralph Chapman said, adding that it’s the nation’s only open pit mine in a coastal estuary system.

Spent shotgun shells and broken appliances lay scattered about a massive pile of waste rock known as Callahan Mountain. A 2013 study in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology found that metals from the mine are widespread in nearby sediment, water and fish – a suggestion that decades later, toxic metals still seep from the mine’s waste rock piles and debris and 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.

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.

The Trump administration has delayed consideration of a federal proposal to require the nation’s mines and processing facilities to prove they have the financial wherewithal to clean up polluted mining.

The EPA estimates the regulations could cost American business up to $171 million.

As for Maine, no metals have been mined there since 1977. And given the state’s bill, said Graham Davis, a professor at the Colorado School of Mines, “I think it’s fair to say that most companies would not be interested in doing that.”