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Indicolite Tourmaline from the Blue Pit, Plumbago Mountain, Newry Maine

by Eric Greene

On Sept. 24, 2009, Louise Jonaitis and some friends went on a field trip to Newry Hill on Plumbago Mountain in Newry, Maine. Jonaitis and her partners purchased Plumbago Mountain in 2008 and were planning to mine there for tourmaline. The day of the field trip, they had planned to bring up the bulldozer, backhoe, track drill, compressor and other heavy equipment they would need to do the mining. Before they even finished unloading the machinery, someone found a gem blue tourmaline crystal right on the surface above the very area they planned to work. Describing that day, Jonaitis later said, "The day we brought the machinery up, we ran right into it. It was sticking right out of the ground, so we dug 4 feet down and there was a pocket, and then it kept going." Careful blasting and backhoe work revealed the first of nine pockets, varying in size from 8 inches to almost three feet. The first Eureka Blue crystal weighed 111 carats. "It was kind of exciting after all this time," Jonaitis said. "We found more blue tourmaline than anyone else in the world has found."

This new discovery of gem tourmaline was less than 1,000 feet from the Dunton Mine, on the southeast side of Newry Hill. There, in 1972, 3 collectors discovered what was to become the largest find of gem tourmaline in the world, producing over a metric ton of fine crystals including many millions of carats of gem material.

Indicolite is the exceedingly rare cerulean blue species of totally flawless, clear elbaite tourmaline. Lots of green, pink and watermelon tourmaline has been found in Maine, but not a lot of blue. Then, at the Blue Pit atop Newry Hill on Plumbago Mountain, blue tourmaline was discovered. It was given the name Eureka Blue, after its unique, vibrant, vivid hue of teal blue, which has been described as "the color of the twilight sky at winter solstice". This discovery has yielded some of the most sought after tourmaline gemstones to ever come out of Maine.

After a long and successful business career, Louise Jonaitis decided in 2006 to try something completely new. "One day I decided I wanted to try to do something different, so I started calculating things I could invest in," she said. Jonaitis, a resident of Portland, ME, then founded Grand State O'Maine Land Co., based in Newry. Along with Robert Brown of Hanover, she purchased a tourmaline mine in Newry and Saunders Bros. wood products mills in Locke Mills and Fryeburg. In March, 2011, Jonaitis presented Maine Gov. John Baldacci with a blue tourmaline gemstone mined in Newry. At her request, Baldacci gave the gem to President Barack Obama during his visit to Portland in April.

Mine operations in 2011 reportedly produced about $500,000 worth of gems. Unfortunately, the mining costs were in excess of $1.5 million. This makes future prospects more than a little cloudy for this mine. Clearly the investors are hoping for a repeat of the record-setting finds made over 30 years ago at the nearby Dunton Mine. But how much more can they afford to gamble on a venture that is costing triple what it is producing?