Opinion

Maine’s heritage is its water

On a spring day, my dad and I left Frenchville bright and early to travel to Allagash to brook fish. During the drive, I admired the beauty of the St. John River Valley as I waited to reach our favorite brook along the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Once we arrived, we slathered our arms in bug dope, put on waders and carefully stepped out into the cold, brisk water. As soon as my line was in the brook, I pulled out a beautiful fish. After we caught our limit, we headed to a campsite along the Allagash River to enjoy our lunch of moose burgers and devil dogs while watching the water rush over the falls.

Our favorite fishing spot was near Bald Mountain, which is at the center of the mining debate because it is home to one of Maine’s massive sulfide ore deposits.

As a registered nurse, I know all too well the detrimental the effects of unchecked mining. Last winter, I traveled to the border of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana to provide medical care and arrived to see the river dividing the two countries was a murky tan color. As children played in the river, a local nurse explained to me that the river was dirty because of gold mining. The river was a vital source of water for bathing, drinking and cleaning. The locals fished from the water and needed to cross it for business and family matters. That day we saw more than 400 patients in our eye clinic, many with infections.

Mining requires a huge amount of the earth to be moved and churned. This process creates tailings — a toxic mud-like material — that must be stored safely forever. Unfortunately, dams holding tailings fail at a much higher rate than regular dams. Failure of a tailings dam releases toxic chemicals, such as cyanide and mercury, into the ecosystem and waterways.

Cyanide is deadly to humans because it prevents cells from using oxygen, leading to difficulty breathing and possibly cardiac arrest. Mercury can accumulate over time and cause nervous system toxicity. Specific symptoms of mercury toxicity in humans include difficulty thinking, walking, hearing and speaking. These detrimental health effects occur when humans ingest the toxic chemicals through water or food. This can easily happen when water, fish, vegetation and animals become contaminated. Moose, bear, trout, muskie, partridge, fiddleheads, dandelion greens and deer would all be affected if toxic tailings entered the environment, becoming dangerous to consume. Our beautiful water and homeland would no longer be able to sustain us.

I cannot imagine our magnificent St. John River losing its beauty to become a contaminated, murky tan color. How awful to have to restrict our fishing and hunting to safeguard our health. So much of our heritage and culture lies within the splendor of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. The huge risks of open pit mining are not worth the money. We must protect our water to ensure the health of the current generation and every generation to come.

I urge the Legislature to reject the latest weak mining rules from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and adopt LD 820 to protect our water from mining pollution. This bill will place strict restrictions on mining. Our water is a finite resource that needs our protection.

I have dreams of bringing my children brook fishing in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway with my father and grandfather. Our health and future depend on sound policymaking today.

Samantha Paradis is a registered nurse. She grew up in Frenchville but now lives in Belfast.

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