As a resident of Belgrade and as a retired aquatic scientist on water quality and fisheries issues, I am writing to express my concern about L.D. 1853, a bill that would weaken protection for water quality and fish habitat when metal mines are permitted.

As the bill stands, I oppose it. It would weaken a system to protect Maine’s waters that I and many of my colleagues spent our careers to build. It is very late in the session to adopt this proposal without more and better review before adoption.

I worked for years to establish Maine’s water quality standards and regard them to be the highest in the nation. As the chief aquatic biologist for the Department of Environmental Protection, I worked in the 1980s with Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, then House Speaker, to establish AA and A standards for Maine’s waters.

Maine has the last bastion of naturally occurring Eastern brook trout in the United States, and we cannot allow the deterioration, degradation or destruction of that critical habitat. Bald Mountain is in the center of that critical habitat.

L.D. 1853 proposes to do away with the mining rules we adopted more than 20 years ago. Granted, these rules need to be updated, but they should not be replaced by this bill. Maine’s laws must continue to protect water quality, drinking water and fish and wildlife habitat.

I have a number of concerns with the current draft of the bill.

The definition of “mining area” is vague, and the law would allow contamination of groundwater underneath the mining area. For Irving’s proposed Bald Mountain open pit mine, this area would be 600 acres. For an underground shaft mine it could be much larger.

If we allow a large pool of contaminated groundwater under the mine site, I have no doubt that contamination will spread to surrounding areas and emerge from springs to affect lakes, ponds and streams. This has been the experience with hard rock metal mining across the country. Maine must have standards high enough to make our mines the exception to this rule.

I have a great deal of respect for Martin since I worked with him more than 20 years ago, and I would ask respectfully that he withdraw his bill, create a working committee to review the mining rules and revise them as necessary.

I would be happy to volunteer my expertise to the state of Maine to help with the revision.

If Martin doesn’t withdraw his bill, however, I urge the Legislature to defeat it.

Matthew Scott of Belgrade is retired from a career as an aquatic scientist with the Maine Departments of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Environmental Protection. He was a long-time member of the Board of Environmental Protection, serving as its chairman from 2003-06.