A Canadian mineral exploration company has completed the purchase of nearly 6,900 acres in northern Maine and plans to begin test drilling next month under a mountain with known deposits of copper and other metals.

Wolfden Resources Corp. announced on Nov. 16 that the company had finalized the purchase of 6,871 acres north of Patten for $8.5 million, two months after announcing a purchase-and-sale agreement on the land. The Ontario-based company is still in the very early stages of exploration but plans to gather additional information about the potential size and quality of the ore deposit with below- and above-ground surveys of the site starting next month.

If the Pickett Mountain site is eventually developed, it would be Maine’s first commercial mine in decades. More advanced exploration and any subsequent attempts at mining could also be a first major test of a complex set of environmental regulations passed by the Legislature earlierthis year after years of heated debate over metallic mining in Maine.

“We’re really still getting up to speed on the rules and regulations … but based on what we know, Pickett Mountain seems to be an ideal location” under the new law, said Donald Hoy, president and CEO of Wolfden Resources. “If mining on Pickett Mountain were to happen – and that’s a big ‘if’ – it would be an underground mine situation that would have a relatively small surface footprint.”

Wolfden Resources plans to hold a public meeting in Stacyville on Dec. 5 to discuss its plans and answer questions.

Located just north of the towns of Patten and Hersey, Pickett Mountain is part of the commercial timberlands that comprise much of northern Penobscot and southern Aroostook counties. Yet the mountain is just a few miles away from parts of the newly established Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and is nestled in a landscape dotted with lakes, rivers, streams and woods used by local sportsmen and professional guides. So any attempts to mine the property will be sure to generate opposition from some organizations or individuals.

Rep. Ralph Tucker, a Brunswick Democrat who co-chairs the legislative committee that spent months crafting the new mining regulations, attended a Nov. 17 meeting of the Geological Society of Maine where Hoy gave a presentation. Tucker said he suspected “there may be some salesmanship in promoting the potential for mining” at Pickett Mountain as Wolfden attempts to raise money from investors.

The exploration phase could take several years, he said, and any future mine must abide by a host of new rules aimed at protecting groundwater. Tucker said it was unclear to him how deeply Wolfden has delved into “the novel statutory and engineering limitations that now exist for metallic mining in Maine.”

“These are strict and brand new limitations on current and traditional methods of metallic mining,” Tucker wrote in an email. “These novel limitations will need to be eventually addressed from an engineering and profitability point of view. But right now Wolfden appears to be focused on raising investment capital and preliminary exploration, rather than on the specifics of Maine’s mining laws and regulations.”

In the 1970s, mineral explorations revealed a sizable sulfide deposit – dubbed the “Mount Chase deposit” after the nearby mountain – containing zinc, lead, copper and silver. But there have never been any commercial mining attempts at the site due, in part, to previous regulations that made metallic mining all but impossible in Maine.

Wolfden describes the Pickett Mountain site as containing “one of the highest-grade undeveloped volcanogenic massive sulphide deposits in North America.” Hoy said the geology under Pickett Mountain is the same formation that extends from the Bathurst Mining Camp in neighboring New Brunswick, where underground zinc, copper and silver mines have operated for decades. And the company regards Pickett Mountain – as well as other parts of Maine – as “undeveloped area” from a mining potential.

“The potential to enlarge the known Pickett Mountain (volcanogenic massive sulphide) deposit is thought to be very good, as is the potential to discover additional satellite deposits on the property and outlying regions,” Wolfden said in the Nov. 17 presentation to the Geological Society of Maine.

The new mining laws passed by the Legislature this spring were touted by environmental groups as providing strong protections against pollution by, among other things, prohibiting larger open pit mines and the underwater storage of mine waste. Some critics, however, contend they do not go far enough to protect groundwater and nearby surface waters from the acidic runoff that can result from metallic mining in sulfide deposits.

Nick Bennett, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Council of Maine who was heavily involved in crafting the new mining law, said he was not familiar enough with Wolfden’s plans or the specific geology of the site to comment on the prospects of mining at Pickett Mountain. It is still early in the exploration process and Bennett said the law’s facets would come into play when a company begins more advanced exploration and actual mining.

Wolfden Resources is a mineral exploration company that identifies potentially valuable deposits – mostly in New Brunswick and Manitoba – but does not extract the minerals itself. It would likely be years before Wolfden or other subsequent entity could apply for the complex permits required by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to extract minerals.

Hoy said he has already started having conversations with some local officials and interested parties about the company’s plans. He said he will offer more details during the public meeting to be held Dec. 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Katahdin Elementary School in Stacyville.

“The purpose of the meeting is to introduce the company, review the exploration plan and, first and foremost, to answer any questions and address any concerns,” Hoy said.