Saturday, October 26, 2013

Commentary: Vote No on the NYCO Mining Amendment

National City Center ClevelandI’ve been following the debate over the proposed amendment to the New York State Constitution to allow NYCO Minerals, Inc. to conduct exploratory drilling on 200 acres of Forest Preserve in the Jay Mountain Wilderness.  The basic framework for this proposal is that whatever land NYCO disturbs by their drilling and mining must be exchanged for land of equal or greater value and acreage that NYCO donates to the Forest Preserve.

Please remember as you read this commentary that I have repeatedly and consistently positioned myself as an advocate for finding common ground and seeking consensus around the most controversial issues in the park.  There are plenty of people who are wary of this approach because they fear that efforts to find “balance” or “compromise” will lead to the abandonment of principles that should never be compromised.   That skepticism is unfortunate: negotiations to achieve consensus around common interests, when done correctly, are never about compromise of principles.  Rather they are about avoiding black and white thinking, absolutist rhetoric and the disingenuous politics that so easily proceeds from strident declamations of rightness (for an object lesson, see the tragic rhetoric over this issue).     

In that spirit, the NYCO Amendment, positioned as a “compromise,” a “good deal for the park,” or a great example of “balance” impresses me exactly zero.  It’s none of those things.  What it is instead is a violation of core principles enshrined in the state constitution; further, it is a violation of a nature that sets off some very familiar alarm bells from my own experience.

For me the issue boils down to this: when a large corporation leverages precedent to violate a public interest or trust for its own gain, almost always everyone but the large corporation loses.  In this case we are risking the sanctity of the Forest Preserve in the calculus.  Over the long term that’s very dangerous.

I cannot provide a better analysis of the NYCO amendment than Bill Ingersoll did just a few weeks ago and I will not repeat his work here.  What I can do is provide a perspective on precedent and how it gets leveraged.

Critics of the NYCO amendment point out that it sets a precedent because it is the only instance of an alteration to Article XIV Section 1 that directly benefits a private corporation.  Defenders of the amendment reject this claim with two arguments.  Their first argument is that this amendment is unique, a “one-off,” if you will.  They say it’s a good deal that has been evaluated on its own merits, therefore it has nothing to do with any future proposals.

This argument shoots itself in its own foot, since if the amendment is unique then by definition it sets a precedent.  So is it in fact unique?   Listen to the language we used on previous amendments.  The  amendment to allow new downhill ski routes was the “Whiteface” amendment.  The land swap in the West Canada Lakes area was the “Perkins Clearing” amendment.  This one is the “NYCO” Amendment.  What, did we sell the corporate naming rights?

The second argument is where the real trouble starts.  Defenders claim that precedent has already been set, citing previous amendments, most notably the Perkins Clearing land swap which benefited both the State and International Paper, a private corporation.  Trouble is, they’re exactly right.  Today’s debate proves that Perkins Clearing did indeed set a precedent.

The arguments over Perkins Clearing were distressingly similar; go back to the media coverage from the time and you will see that to be the case.  Many people saw the benefit to the Perkins Clearing land swap and felt that it was a unique circumstance, a “one-off” if you will, a good balance.  But they were sensitive to the charge that it might set a precedent.  Here’s the Lake Placid News from June 16th, 1977:

For these reasons, International Paper and State negotiators have been studying the situation for ten years.  It was obvious that a land exchange would be beneficial to both sides. The question was how to work out such an exchange without having it appear that the state was, in effect, subsidizing a private corporation through a land give away.

The issue of precedent did not go away.  Here’s the Lake Placid News from October 25, 1979:

Both the Sierra Club and the New York State Conservation Council have taken stands against the amendment.  The Sierra Club views the amendment as an “assault” on the forever wild clause and a precedent-setting move which might have more serious consequences in the future.

Does any of this sound familiar?  And were opponents of the Perkins Clearing amendment not prescient?  I did a quick survey, counting up that the Perkins Clearing amendment has been referenced in the NYCO debate some five dozen or more times in media coverage over the last year.  What do you suppose those who once claimed that Perkins Clearing set no precedent are thinking now?

This is not to say that the NYCO Amendment doesn’t set a precedent in its own rite.  It does, and that’s the really troubling heart of the matter.  Specifically it establishes a new intersection of precedent and profit for the Adirondack region.

I know the dynamic well.  A large corporation seeks to exploit a public interest or public asset for profit by leveraging a precedent previously set somewhere else.  Right or wrong, the precedent gives it an argument from merit.  Then, in order to prevail it uses a carrot (more jobs/better land elsewhere/you get the land back when we’re done) and a stick (we’ll leave/go out of business/cut our workforce).  There is plenty of accompanying rhetoric related to being partners in the local community.  Perhaps I’m allergic to this dynamic because I grew up and became politically active in Cleveland, Ohio where exactly this kind of approach wrought disaster.  Let me share a cautionary fable.

In the mid 1970’s Cleveland was home to many large corporations, among them National City Bank, which was very profitable.  Meanwhile due to the realities of rust belt economics Cleveland was dying: the blight of poverty and racial tension, an empty downtown, massive population loss, financial turmoil and failing schools.   The city desperately needed business investment downtown and National City Bank saw an opportunity.

Just a couple of years before, New York City had experimented with a new technique to spur development in slums by forgiving property taxes to the developer for a certain number of years.  This new creature was called a tax abatement.  Note that property taxes are a public asset and certainly a public interest as they fund things like schools.

National City, seeing this New York precedent as an opportunity to lower their financial risk, proposed a brand new headquarters for downtown and asked for a twenty-year tax abatement.  They promised hundreds of good new jobs and they threatened to leave Cleveland for the suburbs if they didn’t get it.  Carrot, stick.

Lot of people opposed the proposal, seeing it for what it was; a greedy power play and dangerous precedent for a city teetering on the brink.  But the allure of a shiny new building  prevailed and in 1977 National City Bank got their deal.

One year later, in 1978, Cleveland’s teetering schools, funded mostly by property taxes, ran out of money.  Only an emergency loan from the State of Ohio saved them from collapse.  The debt that caused this risk of default at the time was less than the value of National City’s tax abatement.  Meanwhile a later survey revealed that National City bank had ultimately created a little over sixty new jobs with their new headquarters, most of them low-wage clerical or teller positions.

In December 1978 Cleveland became the first major American city to go into default since the Great Depression because it was unable to pay $5 million in debt owed in the form of short term notes to Ameritrust (then Cleveland Trust), another bank.  Five other banks had said they would also be willing to roll over the short term debt the municipality owed them if Ameritrust was willing to extend the pay date of this relatively small amount of debt.  But Ameritrust was having none of it.  They were playing hardball with then Mayor Dennis Kucinich whose progressive agenda, specifically a crusade to save public power in Cleveland and oppose tax abatements, was considered virulently anti-corporate.  Ameritrust withheld the notes, Cleveland plunged into default, Kucinich suffered the political equivalent of being run out of town and the people of Cleveland suffered immensely (Kucinich became a Congressman many years later directly because grateful Clevelanders realized he’d been right on both issues).

When we talk about the power of precedent in the intersection of the corporate world with the public world, we take it lightly at our peril.  For if we do, we face the challenge of explaining how the very same Ameritrust Bank asked for a $122 million dollar tax abatement to build a towering new building in Cleveland’s Public Square a mere ten years after the National City debacle, the school crisis and the city default they forced.  Did they get the abatement?  Of course they did (the building was never built as Ameritrust was absorbed by another bank that was already building a 60-story headquarters in Cleveland using – you guessed it – another huge tax abatement).

That’s the power of precedent, especially when wielded by powerful corporate interests.  To this day Cleveland has  pockets of new development here and there downtown, many of them subsidized by taxpayers who are paying for precedent, yet after business hours Cleveland’s downtown is practically a ghost town and the schools remain terrible.  The population has dropped from nearly a million at its peak to less than 400,000 now.  Cleveland, still one of the major centers for multinational corporate headquarters, has been financially gutted.  Tax abatements are not the only reason for this, but they are a contributing factor.

Is it fair to make this a direct comparison between two such disparate situations?  No.  But it makes for a pretty good indirect comparison.  Regardless of the venue, precedent serves as a powerful motivating avenue for exploitation in the name of profit.

Some will accuse me of demonizing the business community or the good people who work for – or own – NYCO.  This is not the case.  This amendment tussle has nothing to do with either.  I’m a business owner and want to see more business in the Adirondacks, no question.  I love profit.  I have no doubt that the people at NYCO are as decent as anyone else.  That was the case with people at National City Bank, a number of whom I got to know.  The single-minded motive to win is simply the reality of a large corporation under the law, not the people who are part of it.  I know, I’ve worked for more than a few.

In the world of the large corporation profit is the holy grail, the sole objective, divorced from other concerns and protected to near perfection by design, by law, by deliberate distancing from ethical or aesthetic responsibility.  It’s the nature of the beast.  If other corporations see that there is now a price on Adirondack land there will be trouble.  Those who buy the argument that the amendment being asked for here is no precedent, that it is merely a one-off, may well live to rue the day.

For the final word, you should do what too few will do: actually read Article XIV Section 1 and the proposed amendment, available here.  The original amendment, being one of the greatest and most noble statements of principle ever enshrined in a state constitution, numbers 54 words.  Thanks to all the amendments over the years Section 1 now numbers 1,491 words.  The cumulative effect is blunting, the number of occurrences of the word “notwithstanding” is numbing.  Just the NYCO amendment itself would add more than 300 convoluted words.  Read that amendment: it reads so differently than the rest of the article, even with its previous amendments included, that the difference is striking (note also that it says nothing about 1,500 acres of land to be given in return; that oft-cited deal is a gentleman’s agreement with no force of law whatsoever).

Trust your instincts when you read Section 1.  Think about precedent and profit.  Then go reread the original words at the beginning of Article XIV and think hard about the principle of Forever Wild.

Then vote No on the NYCO Amendment.

Photo:  The National City Bank Building, Cleveland.  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.

62 Responses

  1. Tim says:

    Hear, hear!

  2. Pete:

    As an Adirondack sojourner from afar, your viewpoints often startle and awaken those of us who have lived here for decades. Even me! And are so much appreciated.

    Thank you and keep writing.

    I have often said, that if all of us here in the Adirondacks and beyond could understand the land use challenges, losses and realities in so many other parts of the USA and World, then there would not be as much division and misunderstanding over what we have achieved — and yet to accomplish — here in the World class model of the Adirondack Park.

    Yes, call me a dreamer. That’s OK. I set out to realize them – and so too will all of us in the Park. The exchanges I have led to the Park from Russia – Siberia, Mongolia, Tibet, China, Mexico, etc., etc. have always given people here pause to realize just how special our Adirondack homeland is — and why we need to do more to protect it for its own right — not to mention as the core source of our true culture and economy.

    Likewise, the ballot proposition 5 fails our homeland, culture, economy and human integrity test because it seeks to trade away our greatest asset that our very own people have sanctioned for over 6 generations — the delicate and robust forest preserve.

    We’ve had snake-oil salesmen, carpet-baggers, missionaries and smooth talking politicians come here before to try and steal our value away and, for the most part, we’ve always turned them out.

    This is that time again. I pray we won’t be fooled and we’ll send them packing once again — and realize, as you do, why we are special.

  3. AdkBuddy says:

    This is a more then fair swap and saves jobs. Yes, jobs. Those gosh darn jobs that so many extremists want to drive out of the Adirondacks.

    • John Warren says:

      Buddy, Are you supporting the casino gaming amendment?

      • AdkBuddy says:

        I haven’t decided on the casino issue. If it passes I doubt the Adirondacks would be affected. I think the locations, and probably the operators, are already decided on and we are not in the plans. On one hand the state stands to make money because gambling isn’t going to go away so why not get a cut of the action. On the other, I think it will bring a bad element to wherever they are situated.

    • Pete Nelson says:


      Your extremists/jobs rhetoric is a common refrain. You’ve read my posts for two years. Are you saying that I am an extremist? Do my various positions/writings strike you that way?

      Why do you think this amendment is about jobs? Did NYCO say they will lay off 100 people if they don’t get the amendment? What about Oak Hill?

      Your typical refrain – and those of others who like when you say it – ignores the big picture to our collective detriment. You are not the only person that would benefit from a broader understanding of jobs in the Adirondacks.

      There are various groups in the region that are working hard to look at improving the economic future of the park. I support every one of those efforts. I have seen much of the work product so far from these projects, some of it public, some not. There are lots of good ideas and while not all of them would work, the thinking is generally considered and sound. I don’t see much of anything on mining in those work products.

      What I do see is that these groups already understand a simple fact from Econ 101: small businesses and entrepreneurial start-ups are job creators – they are labor intensive; large corporations are not – they are capitol intensive. Look into it if you like: when you learn about the economic statistics in job creation the difference is astounding, ranging from two-to-one up to ten-to-one depending upon the parameters.

      So Buddy if you want more jobs in the park like I do you don’t want to look to NYCO. You want to support local energy production, local food sourcing, sustainable forestry that directly feeds various wood products businesses in the region, “high-value” tourism like ecotourism, telecommuting (a huge opportunity) and the ARTA trail which would lead to a blossoming of small businesses as it has virtually everywhere else good rec trails have been built.

      You want people to fill all these new jobs? Then look at the unmistakable American trend toward seeking a quality of life enhanced by the natural world and give these employees a world class wilderness out their back door.

      • Rick Fenton says:

        Sadly, most people don’t understand the Forest Preserve. They don’t know what it is or where it came from. Yet there is hope that the wording of the proposition alone will stir in them some vague anxiety, a concern that, for the first time, a small commercial enterprise is being offered the rare opportunity to acquire a corner of the beleaguered wild–something that belongs to all the people and is important enough to have been elevated over a century ago to the protection of the state constitution–for the sole purpose of commercial development, in a swap for land that has no value for that company. They are being asked to allow that small company, with the hope of a few more years of business, to overthrow the very principle on which the Forest Preserve was founded: “The lands of the Forest Preserve… shall not be leased, sold, or exchanged, or taken by any corporation public or private…” As if the land thought so valuable to the long-term interest of the people of the state should retain that high level of protection only until some corporation asked for it. Perhaps, if nothing else, most people will feel a twinge of indignation, a growing sense that if one company can do it here, why can’t any company that finds some gem sleeping in the wild woods just have it, as long as they ask? Maybe it will come to them that it wouldn’t be a far throw to say a timber company ought to be free to cut down those big valuable trees, since after all, timber jobs depend on cutting trees, and boy those sure are some nice trees. A town needs a place to bury people. All right. A remote community needs a longer airstrip. Fine. A new highway. But when we allow a company to have a piece of the Preserve for the things that sit or grow there, how can we ever say no again?

  4. Pete Klein says:

    Vote Yes. Vote Yes on everything.

  5. smitty says:

    Hummmmm. Peter introduces his piece as an advocate for common ground and consensus but the rest of the article doesn’t strike me that way. Rather than analysis of whether or not this is a good deal, which it is, all the focus is on precedent.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Indeed, Smitty. But don’t ignore the beginning of my piece.

      Yes, I am an advocate for consensus and common ground. In fact I’ll put it to you that not to be an advocate for consensus and common ground would be immensely stupid, since the Adirondack Park is a human construction wrought entirely of human negotiation. It is a political artifact, it always will be, and the body of law that defines, protects and modifies it will always be, by definition, a matter of democratic will. History written large has shown time and again that democratic will is most successful and progressive – that the biggest leaps occur – when we coalesce around consensus.

      Here’s the thing: consensus is not compromise. Compromise often gives consensus a bad name because it leads to bargains where everyone loses enough to be unhappy. Compromise is an important and necessary part of politics but it should not be the default. In particular, principles should not be subject to compromise unless absolutely necessary, unless to not achieve a deal would be more injurious to the principle than the compromise itself.

      Exhibit A is “Forever Wild.” The language reads all principle, not one hint of compromise. Yet it was famously a coalition of early versions of preservationists and conservationists, business interests and wealthy land owners who came to a hard won consensus.

  6. Pete Biesemeyer says:

    Every amendment to Article XIV sets a precedent for the next amendment, and this one is unlike previous ones in that it is intended to benefit a private corporation. It’s the camel’s nose in the tent.

  7. Bill Ingersoll says:

    If there has been one thing that I have found amusing in reading the supporting claims for the NYCO amendment, it’s the people (including DEC commissioner Joe Martens himself) who have downplayed the possibility of setting a precedent in one breath, only to cite Perkins Clearing as a precedent in the next.

    One of the other variables with NYCO is that no one, including NYCO, knows exactly how much wollastonite lies under Lot 8. It could be a little, it could be more than expected. So if the test bores reveal that the mineral lens extends even further than Lot 8, does this mean that we would have to undergo further amendments? I have no doubt that that a second amendment would easily pass, since the first amendment established the belief that this part of the Forest Preserve has no value.

    I cannot in any way feel sympathy for a company who knowingly started a mine on the edge of state land and gets nervous when that ore starts to run out. When you are dealing with non-renewable resources, this is what happens. NYCO has a plan for the future, their jobs are going nowhere anytime soon, and while they may DESIRE lot 8, they in no way need it.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Bill reiterates a point he has made before and which I wanted to cover but chose not to include. The language of the amendment say nothing about what “equal or greater” really means, nor establishes the specific parameters of a deal that is by circumstance highly variable, precisely because NYCO does not know how much wollastonite is there.

      For example, suppose NYCO’s exploratory drilling reveals that the lot is not worth mining. NYCO submits a finding that their test drilling disturbed 20 acres in four separate areas. Who decides what the disturbance zone actually is, what the ecological effect on the parcel as a whole is? What’s the swap value?

      The devil is in the details as the amendment has nothing to say about them.

  8. Dave Gibson says:

    Adding thanks for your perspective, Pete, and for your “plain dealing” from Cleveland to the Adirondack Park.

    Like you, former Gov Mario Cuomo also counted the words in Article 14, Section 1 (54) and publicly tipped his hat to its concise intent and clarity for future generations (which was precisely the intent of its authors in 1894). It took Gov M Cuomo about a decade in office to reach this richer understanding, however, so we have to grant his son some additional time. The 1894 authors would definitely not like all the “notwithstanding” amendments since then (22 approved by voters), but there could have been so many more (hundreds that have been attempted in the legislature or at constitutional conventions without going any further). I will add one more no vote on Prop 5, but I will vote for Prop 4, Township 40, which has more democratic and less corporate overtones and purposes.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Dave and others:

      I also support Proposal 4. Amendments are not bad “a priori.” But each and every one deserves the highest scrutiny.


  9. duane says:

    If voting yes on this amendment will add an additional 1000 acres and increased recreational opportunities to the forest preserve can’t it be argued that it is a pro Forest Preserve vote? If a yes vote will keep Adirondacker’s employed for a longer period of time and an increase in mining material available will accomplish this, isn’t this a positive vote for a more stable economic base for the Adirondacks?

    This reminds me of the debate between Republicans vying for their party’s presidential candidacy in 2012. When asked if they would accept a 10 to one ratio of budget cuts to tax increases they all said no. Absolutely no tax increases of any kind. How many of our “NYCO” no vote supporters at that time thought that this stand was unreasonable and extremist?

    Some of this debate has exposed personal animosity towards corporations and big business. (Justifiable in so many instances.) However should this be a reason to vote no or should the value of the forest lands involved and potential jobs and economic stability hold sway? If a parcel of land that is highly valued by environmental groups for addition to the Forest Preserve was offered for a land swap by a corporation with a less than stellar reputation I wonder if there would be this much corporate bashing or opposition?

    Is the sky falling if this passes? I don’t believe so. We will be gaining five times the acreage for the Forest Preserve. Added up, all the the Article 14 Amendments that have passed have been a been a positive gain in acreage. The size of the Forest Preserve has dramatically increased in the last 100 plus years since it was created. Just in the last 20 years we have seen major additions. And this doesn’t even include the hundreds of thousands of acres now protected by conservation easements.

    The amendment process is a useful tool of representative democracy. We the people actually get a chance to express our opinion. In this case a chance to make an exception to the Forever Wild clause. There are negative impacts (the impacts of mining itself) but I don’t see how anyone can argue the deal doesn’t have beneficial and positive attributes to both the Forest Preserve and the Adirondack economy. So as a resident and a native, a Forest Preserve user and supporter and one who understands the tough rural economic situation that so many Adirondackers face I plan on voting yes on the NYCO Amendment.

    I also thank the Adirondack Almanack for this forum for debate.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Just remember that the amendment language says nothing about 1,500 acres or “five times as much.” In fact the exact language is “equal to or greater than,” a sticky wicket…

      • duane says:

        I have been involved in the State fee and conservation easement land acquisition process for over 20 years and DEC has always done an excellent job in making a fair and just deal on behalf of taxpayers. Sometimes even a better than fair deal in my opinion and always one that enhanced the Forest Preserve. I see no factual basis for your skepticism.

        • Pete Nelson says:

          In fact I agree with you, Duane. I’m not skeptical of DEC. Overall they get an A from me. I think you are right that land acquisition and especially easements, which have been a great success. I acknowledge your experience and concur with you.

          This is a different deal because it is an amendment. DEC could be the wold’s greatest environmental organization and I would still be making the point I’m making. It’s not about skepticism. My point is about the danger of precedent and corporate power.

  10. Bill Ingersoll says:

    As far as the potential benefit of the net 1300-acre increase (1500 acres of new land minus the 200 acres of Lot 8), do the ends justify the means?

    Acquiring new lands for the preserve is an admirable goal, but it is not something that is so Holy and Sacred that it must be accomplished by any means possible.

    Also, my understanding is that some of those 1500 acres are owned by a group that intends to sell to the state one way or the other. (Somebody correct me if I’m wrong.) So with Prop 5 the state might get a net of 1300 acres. Without Prop 5 the state might get all 1700 acres.

    So when approached from the perspective of land acquisition, the Forest Preserve could benefit more WITHOUT Prop 5 than with it.

  11. Woodchuck says:

    Essentially the “good deal” we are being asked to approve means that the State is selling 200 acres (acquired at tax sale in the 1890s and close enough to “old growth” to be it) to NYCO for whatever the payment is from NYCO (it must be of “equal value” once the mineral on Lot 8 is appraised and no less than $1.0m. according to the Legislature’s resolution. If the State really had wanted these cutover 5 or 6 lots that total 1507 acres it could have bought them at any time.

    There are no jobs being lost in the Lewis mine if Prop 5 is defeated, because the plan all along has been to phase into the Oak Hill mine and transfer the labor force, the truck garage, the crusher, etc. There is over 25 years of mining at Oak Hill and NYCO is out prospecting for more deposits. They have a multi-million dollar mill in Willsboro they aren’t going to leave either. And that part of the Champlain Valley is the only place in the US that wollastonite is found. They aren’t leaving. NYCO says it is just a matter of “convenience” to mine Lot 8 for 8 to 10 years before they move the crusher and truck garage to Oak Hill.

    The word “exchange” dresses up this transaction to disguise it for what it is. This is a straight sale, whether the payment is in dollars or acres,strictly for the convenience and profit of NYCO. So what does Article 14 mean when it says that the Preserve “shall not be leased, sold or exchanged” and the wild forest shall not be cut. Does “forever wild” mean except when the State gets greedy for a “good deal” and labels a sale as of Preserve land as an exchange??

    This is no different than what the State was doing before 1894, which then brought about establishment by unanimous vote of the “forever wild” provision. The State Forest Commission was still selling the Preserve to lumber companies after the Preserve was created in 1885. The forests and their watersheds were still being devastated.

    How many more prospective mines are there in the Forest Preserve? How many other “good deals” of this kind or others. After all Article 14 can just be rolled over and thrown under the bus – again and again until it is meaningless. It won’t take much because it’s fragile.(See what Perkins Clearing has already done to it.) Before we do that it would be useful to find out what we would lose, what Article 14 really means to forest protection and wilderness in New York and the rest of the country.

  12. Charlie S says:

    AdkBuddy says: This is a more then fair swap and saves jobs. Yes, jobs. Those gosh darn jobs that so many extremists want to drive out of the Adirondacks.

    You sound like the CEO’s of the fracking industry Buddy,who always dangle the ‘Jobs’ carrot to the desperate populace who would sell their souls for a dollar just to put food on their tables.The problem with our political corporate leaders is that their thinking is always short term (just like probably 90% of this society.)Capitalist’ thinkers,all about where the next dollar will come from,at the expense of all things else.

    Pete puts it in a good perspective when he says: “In the world of the large corporation profit is the holy grail, the sole objective, divorced from other concerns and protected to near perfection by design, by law, by deliberate distancing from ethical or aesthetic responsibility.” How so true it is!
    It’s always about jobs Buddy and all of you others that cannot seem to get past this sour excuse to take away more of our heritage. Sure,people need to work but at what expense?
    To make an amendment to appease a corporation and their profits is a big no no and to even think about allowing it is beyond me.It just goes to show how much our puppet leaders will keep on testing the waters to see how much they can get away with. They love people like you Buddy,they dream of one day having 99% of the population being ‘Yes’ men and women,men and women who will bow down to their every command…. Yes sir,yes mam,whatever you say,just don’t take my television away,my car,my cellphone,my seasonal pass at Mets Stadium.

  13. Davis says:

    To me there is nothing inherently wrong with amending the state constitution to allow for a land swap in the Park, if it truly is in the interest of the citizens of NYS. This in IMHO is not. It is a sweetheart deal for NYCO and a win for northern Essex County on balance, but not for the majority of New Yorkers or the environment. Much more should have been offered in exchange for this property. Just talking about acres without reflecting on the value of the mineral rights or the condition of the properties in the exchange doesn’t warrant a “yes’ vote.

    • Colvin says:

      The land exchange DOES take into consideration the value of the mineral rights. The amendment authorizes NYCO to do exploratory drilling, and NYCO is required to turn the information from that drilling over to the State. The State then uses that information to do an appraisal of the property, and the land that the State gets has to be equal to or greater than that appraised value. Here is the language of the amendment which I copied from the bill on the Senate’s website:


  14. Mike K. says:

    Lots of good issues here. But two issues make this land swap a much better deal than most people here are giving credit.

    First. Why would anyone concerned about the future of the park worry about the precedent of this land swap? The park will get 7-8 times more land than it gives up…. and 20 years from now it gets back all the land it gave away. That’s a precedent the park should want to set for the discussion of any future land swaps.

    And second, I’m surprised more people aren’t taking the long-term view. Maybe some of the land being discussed here is not old growth, but in the long term it all will be. In the long term there will be more jobs as NYCO mines both Lot 8 and the Oak Hill site. And most importantly for the park-loving public, in the long term the park will be significantly bigger and better with the swap than without. When discussing the Essex Chain Lakes, supporters of the wilderness classification take the long-term view and say the existing network of logging and camp roads will revert to wilderness in time. They’re right, and the benefits of the proposed NYCO land swap should be measured on the same time scale.

    • LocalYokel says:

      The point that you and others seem to be missing, Mike K., is that there is no language in the amendment to guarantee that “The park will get 7-8 times more land than it gives up.” As noted above, the only guarantee is that NYCO will give land that is of value “equal to or greater than” the parcel that is swapped. There are many reasons why I will vote NO on Prop.5, but this is the icing on the cake. Personally I have little faith in “handshake” agreements, especially when they require public sacrifice for private benefit.

      • Colvin says:

        LocalYokel-the amendment guarantees that the land that will be acquired by the State will be equal to or greater than the size and value of the lot that NYCO will be getting, but further states that IN NO CASE WILL THE VALUE OF THE LAND THAT THE STATE WILL GET BE LESS THAN $1 MILLION. Even if you assume the value of land the State will get is $10,000 per acre (which seems a bit high for forest land in the Adirondacks that has recently had a timber harvest) and the appraised value of lot 8 comes in at $1 million or less, the State would get a minimum of 1,000 acres in exchange for the 200 acre lot. Also, the information that NYCO gets from its exploratory drilling will be included in the value of the lot NYCO will get, so the value of the land that the State will get could be significantly higher than $1 million. These are not handshake agreements. They are requirements contained in the constitutional amendment.

  15. Colvin says:

    Those opposing the NYCO amendment do so because of a philosophical opposition to taking land out of the Forest Preserve for any reason except for limited public health and safety types of purposes. I respect this perspective, and 15 years ago agreed with it. But I am afraid that in today’s dynamics this perspective is short sighted. The State no longer has unlimited funds for land acquisition, and I understand that in fact the State’s only funding source for buying land now gives local governments the right to veto the State’s use of the fund. With the NYCO amendment, we can significantly expand the size of the Preserve and local governments will be powerless to stop it. If this amendment fails, however, you can be sure that the State will not be able to buy the 1500 acres (or more) because the local governments will use their veto power. Therefore the question for me are: do I want to improve the Forest Preserve or don’t I?

    I am not concerned about this amendment setting precedent, and don’t care if Perkins Clearing was precedent or not. I think that is a smokescreen to confuse the issue at hand. Every amendment goes through the legislature twice. Historically, the Adirondack environmental groups have controlled what happens in the Assembly on Forest Preserve amendments, and this time is no different. The reason the NYCO amendment got through the Assembly is because the 2 biggest Adirondack Environmental groups (the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Adirondack Council) SUPPORTED it.

    Although I will mourn the temporary loss of 200 acres of Forest Preserve land to a mining company, I will be voting YES on the NYCO amendment because this amendment provides an excellent opportunity to expand the size, biological diversity, and recreational opportunities of the Forest Preserve.

    • Peter says:

      The long view is essential here, and your comment on environmental groups doing so with regard to the Essex Chain is well noted. It seems like it’s just the OPAAW (one person and a website) groups that are caterwaulin’ about this, while the environmental groups with legitimacy are supporting it.

  16. Wren Hawk says:

    “Also, my understanding is that some of those 1500 acres are owned by a group that intends to sell to the state one way or the other. (Somebody correct me if I’m wrong.) So with Prop 5 the state might get a net of 1300 acres. Without Prop 5 the state might get all 1700”

    I’d be interested to know if this is true or likely. The western parcels at Nugent Road adjacent to the JMW have been heavily logged.

  17. Tim says:

    Opening up hundreds of acres to the public? Yes. But in the 7,000 acre Jay Wilderness there is a total of one trail, going to the ridge and summit of Jay Mt. People won’t be flocking to the new lands. But we will all see the awful scar of NYCO’s strip mine, in addition to the present mine. For me, the whole debate boils down to 2 words: STRIP MINE.

  18. dave says:

    Like it or not, what happens before influences what happens after. This is why precedent is such a powerful concept in law.

    It is true that every Amendment has to go through a fairly rigorous legislative process and receive voter approval, but all of the amendments up until this point have set the benchmark for what is possible, and what is acceptable, when it comes to that process. Each previous amendment, if even in some very minor way, paves the path for later amendments or amendment attempts.

    You need only ask yourself if this NYCO amendment, as is, would have been acceptable to the legislature and voters of 1895… the people who originally approved Article 14. The answer to that is almost certainly no.

    But today, it is a step away from approval. That is, in part, due to the powerful effect of precedent. This amendment would not have been possible without those that came before it… they altered what was acceptable… and if it passes it will, in turn, alter what is possible and acceptable in those that come after it.

    That is why if you are concerned about the long view, about the future of the Park, you must consider not just the merits of this amendment on its own, but also the effect it will have 40 years, 60 years, or a generation from now.

    • Colvin says:

      There have been amendments to allow downhill ski areas on three Forest Preserve mountains, but similar amendments to allow downhill ski areas on other forest preserve lands failed. There have also been constitutional amendments to allow roads to be built in the Forest Preserve, however, other amendments to build roads in the forest Preserve have failed. There was an amendment to allow a cemetery to expand onto Forest Preserve land; there has been no other amendment allowing a cemetery on Forest Preserve land. An amendment to allow Forest Preserve land to be used for for stream flow control reservoirs was adopted, but was repealed thirty years later. I don’t see where historically any constitutional amendment has served as precedent for other amendments.

      • dave says:

        The concern is not that if you allow one ski area, you are stuck allowing all ski areas.

        No. Thankfully that is not how precedent works, and no one implied that it did.

        Furthermore, especially in this case, the concern with precedent is less about the ‘what’ and more about the ‘why’

        • Colvin says:

          My point, which is supported by the long history of Article XIV amendments, is that the passage of this amendment doesn’t mean that any similar future amendment will be passed. It doesn’t open the door to any other land exchange amendment that might benefit a private party. Each amendment is judged on its own potential benefits and drawbacks.

          Your point seems to not have anything to do with precedent. Your point seems to be that you don’t think an amendment should benefit a private commercial entity. That is a philosophical position that has nothing to do with precedent.

      • Bill Ingersoll says:

        The amendment to allow a ski center on Whiteface FOLLOWED a prior amendment to allow the construction of the highway to the summit; because the first amendment had already passed, the second one passed with little opposition because the mountain was deemed to be compromised.

        Following Whiteface, there were subsequent amendments for Gore and Belleayre.

        • Colvin says:

          Yes,there have been amendments for Whiteface, Gore and Belleayre. These amendments passed because that is what the people wanted–they voted in favor of the amendments. How many of those voters went into the voting booth and said, “well, the Whiteface amendment passed, so I might as well vote for Gore and Belleayre?” I bet none. And is it not true that other attempts to convert Forest Preserve mountains into ski areas failed? The most recent failed amendment occurred in the 1990’s when an attempt to allow the Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl to expand onto adjacent Forest Preserve land failed to get first passage in the legislature. This shows that every amendment is considered individually. If you are afraid that the NYCO amendment somehow sets “precedent,” then you are essentially saying that the voters remember the details of every past amendment. Voters don’t have that kind of knoweldge–they can’t recite for you every Article XIV amendment that has ever been introduced into the legislature.

          • Colvin says:

            I’m disappointed that you found it necessary to engage in name calling. This should be a place for reasoned discussion, not personal insults. I disagree with your point of view on this issue, but nonetheless respect your opinion (except the part where you said I lacked “basic logic and reasoning skills”).

            • Pete Nelson says:


              That sort of thing happens on this site less than other sites, but it still happens. Ignore him, keep contributing, you’re obviously making good points (and it’s fun to have “Colvin” on one side of the issue and “Verplanck” on the other!).

              I hear you when you talk the extent to which voters know or don’t know precedent in the voting booth. I would think you’re largely right about that. If this were an issue limited to some voters on one side and some voters on the other I might have to agree to you.

              But I don’t agree because those of you skeptical that precedent is a problem here are missing a big part of my argument. See my new comment at the end, below.

              Thanks for reading, keep commenting, brush off the bad manners.


            • Paul says:

              You say the commenter lacks basic logic and reasoning skills. In other words you are calling him (or her) an idiot. Go somewhere else.

  19. Verplanck says:

    We don’t amend Article 14 because “times are changing.” In good times or bad times, Article 14 has been there to protect the State’s Great Northern Forest. Times may change but Article 14 still means what it says, The law is still the law and there is precedent in previous amendments, nearly all of which have been for a public purpose. WE don’t change our interpretation of Article 14 because “times are changed.”

    And we don’t amend Article 14 for the “convenience” and profit of a private, multi-national company. As Woodchuck said, the State should not be selling Forest Preserve in return for acres of private land or dollars or any other currency.

    The suposed loss of obs is a red herring. NYCO has said there will be no loss of jobs. NYCO will send the jobs over to Oak Hill when the Lewis mine phases out, which been the plan all along. They just want to mine Lot 8 for 8 or 10 years before they pull out the jobs, Crusher, truck garage, etc. from Lewis and have to reclaim Lewis. It a matter of “convenience.’ NYCO has said.

    As for the Legislature, they treated the amendment rather perfunctorily and their background papers didn’t even mention the Oak Hill mine and that the loss of jobs rumor was a red herring. They didn’t even know that Lot 8 was acquired for the Preserve in the 1890s and is basically old growth or close to it and that the land NYCO proposes to give has been recently cut-over. I trust the Legislature to get something right about as far as I could throw them. Protecting Article 14 ad the Preserve has always been up to the People of the State.

    I vote “no.”

    • Paul says:

      We amend it when the state feels it should be amended. It is very likely that this will pass. I don’t think there is really much serious opposition to it. I will also be voting no.

  20. Paul says:

    “Please remember as you read this commentary that I have repeatedly and consistently positioned myself as an advocate for finding common ground and seeking consensus around the most controversial issues in the park.”

    Pete, you don’t mean this seriously do you?

    • Paul says:

      What is with the little mountains on each side? That is kinda cool.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Of course I mean it seriously. Is my track record to the contrary?

      Let’s see where I opposed consensus in favor of one-sided “environmental extremism:”

      Was it my series on the Adirondack economy? Here’s one of those: That must have been it.

      Was it my support of Tupper Lake? That was it for sure:

      Well, perhaps you refer to my support of the Adirondack Futures Project and the Common Ground Alliance. Yep that’s where I really shoot consensus down:

      Read that one again, Paul. Or, this one , written after my piece was critiqued from the environmental side:

      I’d go on Paul, because there are about a dozen more examples, but I have to go teach now. Good job lobbing a comment in there.

      • CarolynADK says:

        Pete, I read you specifically for “common ground.” I’m a former full time resident with ties to generations of our family who lived – and made a living – in the Park. I’m also now an out-of-state seasonal Park resident who pays waterfront taxes and drives in on the weekends. I want the environmental qualities of the Park to be exactly the same, or better, when my great grandchildren are enjoying it. But I also want to be able to look my neighbors and friends in the eye and know that they have a fighting chance to make a good living and raise their families here. If there’s an issue about the Park, I count on you to provide a rational and reasoned analysis that actually looks at both sides of an issue. Keep working for all of our common ground.

        • Pete Nelson says:


          That was just a lovely message. I’m sure I’m right about some things, wrong about plenty more, but you inspire me to work harder to make good points and defend the park and its people. Thank you so much.


      • Paul says:

        You are advocating here for something that prevents an increase in the size of the Adirondack Forest Preserve. That is something that is new. Pete, you have consistently done a wonderful job lobbying for causes that will have a positive impact on the Adirondacks over the long term. But perhaps not necessarily for the people as well. In this particular case the focus of your argument seems to be on “precedent”. If the precedent being set is that an amendment to Article 14 in some cases has to increase the size of the Forest Preserve, along with the company that that asked for the swap eventually cleaning up and leaving, why is that a bad precedent?

  21. Charlie S says:

    Davis says: “To me there is nothing inherently wrong with amending the state constitution to allow for a land swap in the Park, if it truly is in the interest of the citizens of NYS.”

    In the ‘Forever Wild’ law are these words: “Forest Preserve lands shall be kept as wild forest lands.They shall not be leased,sold or exchanged or taken by any corporation public or private……”
    It could not be more specific.That this is even on the table proves once again that we’re being tested to see who’s awake. It’s not about how many citizens of NY State will benefit as much as how much another private enterprise can get away with. There is plenty wrong with this amendment and I’m voting ‘No’ myself.

    • Paul says:

      That is why they are having a vote and letting everyone decide what to do? Putting something on the table should never be considered bad? The best law ever made sometimes needs to be changed. The folks that came before are not deities they are just people like you and me. The folks who come after us need a way to deal with what we didn’t anticipate.

  22. Bill Ingersoll says:

    There is a relatively new Facebook page set up in opposition to Proposition 5.

    If you are inclined to think that this opposition is little more than “one person and a website,” here is your chance to test your theory.

    If you would like to add your own voice, then “like” away!

  23. Pete Nelson says:


    I thank one and all for the wealth of excellent discussion. Once again the Almanack readership proves to be more substantive in their contributions than any other Adirondack site I know.

    A number of you are skeptical that precedent is really an issue. There’s a sense I get that those positions come from a more pragmatic place and my viewpoint is taken as sort of theoretical and exaggerated.

    Au contraire.

    You’re missing a big piece of my argument. My commentary was not merely about precedent, it was specifically about the intersection of precedent with the power of large corporations.

    Some of you have suggested that the average voter knows or cares little about precedent, thus is making his or her mind up on an individual basis. Yup, sure. But the next large corporation that wants a piece of Forever Wild will know the complete history of Article XIV chapter and verse, particularly every way it can be leveraged for gain. That’s a different matter, kids.

    What’s the problem with that, when voters still make the ultimate decision? Well, here’s another part of the Cleveland story. In 1980 and 1981 a coalition of labor unions, consumer action organizations, public interest groups, farmers and others mounted a major effort to pass something called the Ohio Fair Tax Initiative which had
    tax abatements directly in its sights. Because of the train wreck in Cleveland this coalition had a good story, lots of supporters and a great deal of public sentiment on its side. The other side had multinational corporations eager to leverage the precedent that had been set. Our coalition started with the momentum and a clear path. But then the corporations did their thing, outspent us 10 to 1, flooded the media with horror stories and propaganda and the voters of Ohio sent the Fair Tax Initiative to a 3-1 to defeat.

    Precedent skeptics, your uninformed voter making up his or her own mind in the voting booth is not an asset to you or your point of view when corporations, with their newly minted “personhood,” their astoundingly deep pockets and their media/manipulative savvy, get in the game and go for it.

    That’s the problem. We see see it play out every day in our contemporary culture. Often, as we all know, the rapacious drive for profit is reigned in only by constitutional bulwarks. As is the case here with our noble Forever Wild statement.

    • Colvin says:

      Pete, you make an excellent point about the power of large corporations to get their way. The passage of Prop 5 could encourage more corporations to flex their muscles to try to get amendments that further their narrow financial interests. I’m not sure, however, that the defeat of Prop 5 will have any impact on whether they try to do this. Also< I don't think that either the Mountain Club or Adirondack Council is likely to support future amendments that benefit private businesses, and when those environmental groups have proposed amendments the amendments have died in the legislature. I think NYCO presents unique facts that we aren't likely to be seen again.

      Considering that the Forest Preserve is "forever," I wonder what our great grandchildren will think about this amendment whatever the outcome on Tuesday. If it passes, will they thank Tuesday's voters for adding land to the Forest Preserve, or curse the voters for starting a bad "precedent?" If it fails, will they curse Tuesday's voters for failing to take advantage of an opportunity to acquire additional lands for the Preserve, or will they thank the voters for protecting the Preserve's sanctity? Too bad we don't all have a crystal ball–it might help us decide how to vote!

      • Colvin says:

        Oops-there was a significant typo in my message above, it should have read: and when those environmental groups have OPPOSED amendments the amendments have died in the legislature.

  24. Paul says:

    Pete would you also be opposed to a swap with a large corporation like The Nature Conservancy if it were to benefit both the conservancy and the people of the state like this one here?

    The issue here is not that it doesn’t set a precedent but that it appears to set a good one.

  25. Charlie S says:

    Paul says: That is why they are having a vote and letting everyone decide what to do? Putting something on the table should never be considered bad? The best law ever made sometimes needs to be changed. The folks that came before are not deities they are just people like you and me. The folks who come after us need a way to deal with what we didn’t anticipate.

    You’re right Paul.The only problem with some of these carrots though is that most voters (if they vote at all) have no idea what they are voting for,or against,come time to cast their ballots.We are a very misinformed society (generally speaking of course) thanks to the corporate media who dish out only what serves their interests.

    • Paul says:

      So we should let someone else decide for us? There are many very well informed people (many environmentalists included) who are in favor of this amendment. So it isn’t like it is a bunch of uninformed folks involved here getting their message only from the corporate spin doctor. Those are just old euphemisms that people just can’t help but throw out there.

  26. Charlie S says:

    Pete says: Precedent skeptics, your uninformed voter making up his or her own mind in the voting booth is not an asset to you or your point of view when corporations, with their newly minted “personhood,” their astoundingly deep pockets and their media/manipulative savvy, get in the game and go for it.

    So so true.What comes to mind immediately is the recent GMO food labeling initiative in California.The people voted against labeling GMO’s in that state.Why? Because,obviously,they didn’t know better as the corporations saturated the media and billboards with their propaganda and the people fell for it….they voted against their own interests.Happens all the time. Is why we need more people awake!

    • Paul says:

      Charlie S, the folks in California may have also known that ALL the science to date done on GMOs has proven that they are SAFE. No one has ever been harmed by them EVER. The message that you seem to have gotten there is based on the spin you describe coming from the anti-GMO machine that is designed specifically to scare people and keep them totally uninformed or misled regarding the science.

  27. duane says:

    I think that all the expressions of concerns about corporate power and precedent are probably earnest for the most part but when taken into context with the reality and history of the Forest Preserve fall short in their dire predictions for the Adirondack Park. Past amendments have benefited many interests. Expansion of ski areas certainly can aid local businesses and an expanded airport has the potential to do the same. Moving a town highway department from a flood plane, expansion of a local cemetery and land for a town water supply serves local taxpayers with the potential to lessen future tax burdens.

    DEC has specifically looked at the need and potential for mining (gravel, sand etc.) in all fee and conservation easement deals for decades. Many active and potential extraction mining sites were left in private hands to answer future needs. If this 200 acres had been offered to the State in the last 20 years
    there is a good chance it would have been rejected if NYCO had explained the potential for mining.

    The amendment process has brought forward very few land swap deals over the last 100 plus years and they have been pretty specific and limited. And there have not been a rash of requests for additional expansions of cemetery’s, airport runways or land swaps for town water supplies, all precedents at the time. The context for this one is for land next to an already working mine, not a request to open one in the middle of Forest Preserve. I do not believe that DEC would put forward one in the Giant Mountain Wilderness that would be visible from the High Peaks Wilderness. To believe otherwise is, in my opinion, for whatever reason a little bit delusional and a little bit paranoid.

    Just judging from a historical perspective I do not believe that the citizens and politicians of New York will suddenly start approving large scale land swaps or a multitude of smaller ones that will diminish the Forest Preserve. Small ones, like this one with reasonable parameters including being next to a working mine and not within an extremely popular view shed or recreational area and will be beneficial to the future of the local economic base (by expanding the amount of material available to mine) may spring up from time to time. Then we the people, who have always been supportive of the Adirondak Park, will judge if it helps to serve a local service and/or economic need but is also beneficial or holds harmless the Forest Preserve or is an abuse of political power by corporations and then vote it down.

  28. Paul says:

    “Just judging from a historical perspective I do not believe that the citizens and politicians of New York will suddenly start approving large scale land swaps or a multitude of smaller ones that will diminish the Forest Preserve.”

    Of course they won’t. And if they did it would continue to increase the size of land added to the forest preserve four fold with each transaction like here.

  29. Paul says:

    This is an interesting transaction to consider. It looks like the old Camp Gabriels might have a buyer:

    In this case the state is taking 90 acres of land that it owns inside the Adirondack Park and is outright selling it to a private party. Is the swap much of a precedent when it looks like the state can already sell land outright to a private interest rather than add it to the forest preserve? Pete, what is your take on that? Isn’t this a clear violation of article 14 as it is written? Or perhaps this law is more flexible that we think?

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