NYCO Minerals spent $662,000 to secure passage of Proposition 5, whereas opponents of the measure spent hardly anything. Yet the proposition passed by a fairly narrow margin, earning only 53 percent of the vote.
Opponents of Prop 5 have portrayed the ballot battle as a David-versus-Goliath confrontation in which David almost won. The assumption is that, despite spending almost no money, the little guys persuaded 47 percent of the electorate to vote against the proposition.
There is some truth in this, but the bigger picture is more complicated.
Proposition 5 authorizes the state to give NYCO a two-hundred-acre parcel in the Jay Mountain Wilderness in exchange for land of equal or greater value. Lot 8, as the parcel is known, abuts the company’s wollastonite mine in the town of Lewis. NYCO wants to expand the mine onto Lot 8. Here’s how the ballot measure was worded:
The proposed amendment to section 1 of article 14 of the Constitution would authorize the Legislature to convey forest preserve land located in the town of Lewis, Essex County, to NYCO Minerals, a private company that plans on mining the land. In exchange, NYCO Minerals would give the State at least the same amount of land of at least the same value, with a minimum assessed value of $1 million, to be added to the forest preserve. When NYCO Minerals finishes mining, it would restore the condition of the land and return it to the forest preserve. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?
By necessity, the ballot measure contained only a bare-bones description (three sentences, 97 words) of the proposed amendment. It did not—and could not—get into the pros and cons that were debated on the Almanack and elsewhere in the media.
Before November’s vote, NYCO hired Behan Communications of Glens Falls to conduct a poll and marketing campaign. The initial poll, done a month or so before the election, found that more people opposed the proposal than favored it (44 percent versus 40 percent), according to Mark Buckley, the company’s environmental manager. “It was almost split down the middle,” Buckley told the Almanack.
When NYCO explained the proposition, Buckley said, the measure came out ahead (54 percent to 44 percent), with most of those in the undecided camp switching to the favorable camp.
Thus, it seems that most people were predisposed to vote against giving away a piece of the Forest Preserve to a mining company—or at least were hesitant to do so. Whether or not you favored Proposition 5, this is a good thing. It shows that the public’s gut reaction is to protect the Preserve.
So NYCO and Behan Communications had their work cut out for them. They had to overcome the initial aversion to Prop 5. The opponents just had to hold the line.
As we know, NYCO and Behan succeeded with their marketing campaign, arguing that the expansion of the mine would preserve about a hundred jobs and that the state would receive far more land (probably 1,500 acres) than it would give up (and it would eventually get back Lot 8, to boot).
If the opponents had $662,000 to spend, the outcome might have been different. But that is not a certainty. Comparing the initial NYCO poll with the election results, one is led to conclude that the opponents failed to pick up many converts. Was this because they lacked the money to get their message across? Or did NYCO win on the facts? The answer probably will depend on which camp you’re in.