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How a Small Town in Maine Stopped a Silver Mine

Aug 18, 2022 | Community Rights, Metallic Mining, News, Top Stories, Toxic Trespass | 0 comments

The Pennamaquan River flows past Pembroke, Maine, not far from where Canadian company Wolfden Resources proposed to mine for silver. The town banned industrial mining this spring. PHOTO BY RYAN MALAGARA

A Canadian company planned to mine silver nearby, so town residents used Maine’s “home rule” powers to ban industrial mining and protect their water.

JULIA CONLEY AUGUST 4, 2022

PEMBROKE, Maine — One May evening, residents packed into a Pembroke meeting room to decide the future of their town. On the agenda: Should Pembroke ban industrial metal mining?

The coalition of farmers, environmentalists and retirees who had called the vote wasn’t sure what to expect. Pembroke, a town of fewer than 900, isn’t exactly a liberal stronghold — Donald Trump carried the county twice. But this was not a national election, and the mining threat was not abstract: In 2021, Canadian company Wolfden Resources unveiled plans to mine for silver uphill from the wells residents rely on for water and just 2 miles from the rich estuary of Cobscook Bay.

Severine von Tscharner Fleming, one of the leaders of the grassroots effort to stop the mine, puts it this way: In Pembroke, ​“people are not all in the same part of the political spectrum, but our common ground is literally our common ground.”

Fleming moved to Pembroke in 2017, drawn to the heavily forested area, the fishing economy and the affordable farmland. She now runs an organic farm overlooking Cobscook Bay as well as Greenhorns, an organization dedicated to transitioning farms to more diverse, resilient and environmentally friendly agricultural systems.

When Fleming learned Wolfden planned to mine for silver in Pembroke, she saw it as an existential threat to the community. She helped start the Pembroke Clean Water Committee to appeal to her neighbors based on something they could all relate to: the need for clean water. The committee organized information sessions with health, legal and geology experts, including one with longtime Anishinaabe activist Winona LaDuke.

Attendees learned the dangers inherent in this type of silver mining: When it exposes sulfide deposits or tailings to oxygen and water, it forms sulfuric acid, which can leach heavy metals like lead, arsenic and mercury from the surrounding rock. It can lead to what the PCWC website describes as ​“a self-perpetuating and often runaway process”: acid mine drainage.

Read more at In These Times.

Commentary: The happy ending is that these town folks voted the mining down. We too can do this in Virginia! The Buckingham Supervisors may not be be easily convinced, as they believe, “Virginia is a Dillon’s Rule State” and lacks municipal home rule. But being a Dillon’s Rule state only means that the state adamantly violates the right of self-determination at the local level. It doesn’t mean that God ordained the people of Virginia to have fewer rights than Mainers and that county officials must obey.

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