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December 08, 2016
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Environmental split over Proposition Five; The Adirondack Land Swap

Wollastonite is a mineral used in the production of ceramics, brakes, clutches, paint and plastics among other things, and is the reason that Proposition Five exists on the ballot in New York State for the November election.
Contributed photo

LEWIS, NY — NYCO Minerals has been mining wollastonite in the Town of Lewis in the Adirondacks for the last 60 years. The company now wants to mine a 200-acre area located about 50 feet away from the current mine. However, that parcel is owned by the state as part of the Adirondack State Forest Preserve and subject to a “forever wild” provision of state land.

NYCO has proposed giving some 1,500 acres of land to the state in return for the 200 acres owned by the state. Additionally, over time the state land would eventually be returned to the state.

In order to allow this to happen, voters in the state must pass Proposition Five, which will be on the ballot in November, and would amend the state’s constitution to allow the transfer to take place.

Supporters of the proposition say it’s a good deal for the state, and support has come from a number of organizations, including unions and environmental groups. The Adirondack Council, for instance, in June released a statement in support of the proposition. William Janeway, the executive director of the organization, said, in exchange for the 200 acres the people of the state would receive “1,500 acres of land containing better wildlife habitat and greater recreational opportunities.”

An analysis of the proposition by the council said, “The 1,507 acres to be added to the Forest Preserve contain important wildlife habitat, more than three miles of stream, sensitive fisheries, and recreational resources. Much of this area is also identified in New York State’s Open Space Conservation Plan as lands that should be protected as part of the Lake Champlain Watershed priority project.”

Local politicians are pleased that the 100 jobs provided by the company in remote Essex County would remain. But not everyone thinks the proposition is a good deal for state residents.

The Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club is urging voters to say no to Proposition Five. Roger Downs, the conservation director of the chapter, said, “The term ‘forever wild’ loses meaning when we allow parcels of our remaining wilderness lands to be developed for private commercial gain. The Forest Preserve and the 119-year old protection afforded to it by Article 14 of the State Constitution should not be for sale at any price. The proposed land exchange does not represent any real improvement to the wilderness legacy of the Adirondacks.”

Charles Morrison, a spokesman for the chapter’s Adirondack Committee said: “The state legislators who voted for this proposal in the closing days of the legislative session have not been given the full facts. For example, proponents of this deal have kept quiet that NYCO has been planning for the closure of the 1970s Lewis Mine all along, and the company opened a second mine at Oak Hill in the late 1990s, two miles away from the Lewis mine, to replace it. In 2006, NYCO submitted a 25-year plan to state agencies to phase out its Lewis mine and transition to full operations at Oak Hill by 2016 where the ore is as good, or better, than at Lewis. There is no economic emergency here that requires the voters to amend the constitution.”

The supporters of the proposition countered that with a press release of their own, which said that information is false. The release said, “NYCO owns another site at Oak Hill that contains wollastonite, but the mineral is buried much more deeply in the ground, making it far more costly to remove. Operating there today would pose serious competitive challenges to NYCO as the company fights to compete in the global wollastonite market. Continuing to operate in Lewis, on a site that is just 50 feet from existing mine, would allow NYCO to stay competitive because the wollastonite is closer to the surface and because the company already has its infrastructure and equipment in place at that location.”

The advocacy group called Protect the Adirondacks opposes Proposition Five because it sets a bad precedent. A post on its website says, “The proposed NYCO proposal breaks with historic precedent because it would be the first Forest Preserve Constitutional Amendment solely to be undertaken for private commercial gain rather than for a public municipal purpose.”