First, state agencies are trying to rush approvals for NYCO to begin “mineral exploration” on 200 acres of Forest Preserve in the Jay Mountain Wilderness, known as Lot 8, an action that was narrowly approved in a Constitutional Amendment last fall.
Second, NYCO is also seeking a massive expansion of its Lewis Mine, which abuts Lot 8 and the Jay Mountain Wilderness.
The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Adirondack Park Agency (APA) has released various draft materials that describe how they plan to implement and manage the Constitutional Amendment that authorized “mineral exploration” and possible sale of Forest Preserve lands. The DEC has determined that its best course of action is to amend the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area Unit Management Plan (UMP) for the 200 acres on Lot 8. The Constitutional Amendment authorized a two-step process whereby NYCO first undertakes a “mineral exploration” phase. This involves road building and test drilling sites. If NYCO determines that the tests show a high level of wollastonite, the ore it mines, then the Amendment authorizes that the state can sell up to 200 acres to NYCO based on a price approved by the Legislature.
The UMP amendment to the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area Unit Management Plan authorizes various measures, such as drilling and road building, within the Forest Preserve on Lot 8. The specific details of where roads will be built, trees will be cut, and drilling sites established, among other things, will be detailed in a Temporary Revocable Permit (TRP), a legal process that DEC utilizes to manage various short term, small-scale, non-conforming, yet mostly benign, activities on the Forest Preserve.
DEC has released a draft TRP that details the work plan for the entire mineral exploration phase. There will be significant environmental impacts as the forest is cleared in many locations. The road building alone in the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area will see the removal of 1,254 trees. NYCO’s drilling seeks to utilize large amounts of chemicals common to fracking operations, which are referred to in the work plan as Proposed Drilling Additives.
NYCO seeks authority to begin this work as soon as possible. The APA will review the draft UMP Amendment on Friday April 11th and determine whether to send it to public hearing. APA materials are here.
A coalition of environmental groups that opposed Proposal 5 last fall is represented by Earthjustice, which submitted in a letter that enumerates the many ways that the DEC and APA subvert existing laws. The DEC takes the position that the approved Constitutional Amendment trumps almost all other state laws. The environmental coalition disputes that position and believes that the NYCO Amendment only authorized mineral exploration on Lot 8 in compliance with pertinent state laws.
DEC asserts: “This UMP amendment is based on the implicit repeal by the 2013 constitutional amendment of State Land Master Plan Wilderness guidelines that would otherwise prohibit NYCO’s mineral sampling operations within the Jay Mountain Wilderness area.” Yet if the SLMP has been implicitly repealed, then why is the state trying the amend a UMP, which is governed by the SLMP?
The APA senior staff supports the DEC. The APA Counsel wrote in a transmittal memo “The legal effect of the constitutional amendment is that the SLMP’s Wilderness Guidelines do not apply to Lot 8; thus there is no discretion for the Agency or DEC whether to permit this activity and no question about the activity’s conformance with the SLMP.”
Yes, New Yorkers approved mineral exploration on the Forest Preserve in Lot 8, but the voters did not approve subverting and ignoring the SLMP. In a UMP Amendment, the APA must make a finding about conformance with the SLMP. Since the SLMP does not allow drilling and road building in Wilderness Areas, how can a UMP Amendment that authorizes these activities comply with the SLMP? The APA does not get to pick and choose when to uphold the SLMP and when to disregard it.
Besides the very real problems with trying to exempt these new activities from SLMP review, the APA and DEC are rushing this process in ways that openly violate the timetables established and agreed upon in the APA-DEC Memorandum of Understanding (see pages 13-14). The public has an expectation that state leaders should obey state policies.
There are other weighty issues involving cumulative impacts and natural resource impacts under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) that the APA and DEC also need to evaluate.
The DEC and APA need to regroup. They need to slow down the train and figure out how they will implement Constitutional Amendments that allow activities prohibited by the SLMP. They also need to be mindful about obeying their own policies for public disclosure and official actions as well as upholding SEQRA.
The DEC has opened a public comment period on the draft TRP and draft UMP Amendment. Click here to file a comment online.
There is time to do this right because, for its part, NYCO has embarked upon a massive expansion of its Lewis Mine. At the same time that the DEC and APA are taking public comments on a plan to allow NYCO to undertake “mineral sampling” in the Forest Preserve west of its Lewis Mine, the APA and DEC are reviewing a new permit application (2013-138) by NYCO to expand its mining operation in another direction.
NYCO seeks to expand its mining operations from 90 acres to 132 acres, the largest single increase ever sought since NYCO has been regulated by the APA. NYCO seeks a 46% expansion of its 90-acre open pit mine in a southeast direction towards Derby Brook, which involves wetland destruction and construction of a new 1,400-foot “tributary” to Derby Brook.
NYCO’s proposed expansion will have a negative impact on the rural residential community on Wells Hill in Lewis. NYCO plans to sustain its wollastonite mining at current levels, but also seeks to add aggregate rock mining – a new activity at its Lewis Mine. As part of this massive expansion, NYCO is seeking to expand daily truck trips from 63 per day in the spring and fall, and 45 a day in July-August, to a total of 100 a day from April-November. NYCO also seeks to expand hours of operation from 10 hours a day to 11hours a day and start operations earlier at 7:00 AM.
The increased hours of operation and truck trips means that local residents along the truck route on Wells Hill, where trucks enter and leave NYCO’s Lewis Mine by the same route, will endure 200 large, loud truck passes a day. Over 11 hours, that’s one truck pass roaring by every 3.3 minutes. That is an unacceptable burden to place on the residents of Wells Hill. The increase in truck traffic severely disrupts the rural quality of life for local residents. Homeowners along the truck route say these trucks make their homes shake when they roar by on the narrow local roads.
The actions by the state and NYCO show a unified front to massively expand NYCO’s mining operations in a way that openly subverts state law, negatively impacts the environment, and negatively impacts the rural quality of life for local residents.
When NYCO was given its initial APA permit for the new Oakhill Mine in 1998, it was adamant that it would operate both mines simultaneously only for a short, overlapping time period. The Oakhill mine is 1.5 miles away from the Lewis mine. Since then, NYCO has managed to continue to expand the Lewis Mine for wollastonite mining, and the purchase of Forest Preserve lands will continue this process, while at the same time expanding the Oakhill Mine for aggregate mining under a long-term lease to Graymount, which mines and produces a variety of rock products. NYCO is seeking to expand trucking at Oakhill from 91 trucks per day to 150 as part of its new permit application.
Under NYCO’s new application to the APA, both sites will operate full tilt for the long-term. Mine related blasting, heavy earth-moving equipment, rock crushing, and trucking will all significantly increase. This is an unfair burden placed on local residents. The impact from two mines going full bore was glossed over by supporters in the run-up to the November vote. Here’s how one of them wrote about it while encouraging people to vote yes: “NYCO is currently unable to use its other mine, the Oak Hill site, because it is currently leased by an aggregate company that is mining the overburden for use in aggregate products, preparing the site for eventual wollastonite mining.” NYCO was “unable” to use Oakhill for wollastonite mining because it chose not to for purely financial reasons.
One interesting piece of information to come out in NYCO’s application to the APA/DEC to expand its Lewis Mine states that “The mine will be reclaimed to grassland within two years of the cessation of mining.” Under the NYCO Constitutional Amendment, lands sold to NYCO for mining will be returned the Forest Preserve after mining is completed and NYCO “remediates the site.” Prop 5 proponents hyped this as a great deal. In a ‘Vote-Yes’ piece in Adirondac magazine DEC Commissioner Joe Martens wrote “NYCO plans to disturb only a quarter of the 200-acre Lot 8. At the end of the mine’s twenty-five year life, the constitutional amendment requires the land to be reclaimed with native plant species and conveyed back to the state for inclusion in the Forest Preserve. The approximately fifty disturbed acres would once again take on a wild forest character.”
There is nothing in the NYCO Constitutional Amendment that says anything about replanting of native species or limits of 50 acres.
Read it for yourself:
“Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions, the state may authorize NYCO Minerals, Inc. to engage in mineral sampling operations, solely at its expense, to determine the quantity and quality of wollastonite on approximately 200 acres of forest preserve land contained in lot 8, Stowers survey, town of Lewis, Essex county provided that NYCO Minerals, Inc. shall provide the data and information derived from such drilling to the state for appraisal purposes. Subject to legislative approval of the tracts to be exchanged prior to the actual transfer of title, the state may subsequently convey said lot 8 to NYCO Minerals, Inc., and, in exchange therefor, NYCO Minerals, Inc. shall convey to the state for incorporation into the forest preserve not less than the same number of acres of land, on condition that the legislature shall determine that the lands to be received by the state are equal to or greater than the value of the land to be conveyed by the state and on condition that the assessed value of the land to be conveyed to the state shall total not less than one million dollars. When NYCO Minerals, Inc. terminates all mining operations on such lot 8 it shall remediate the site and convey title to such lot back to the state of New York for inclusion in the forest preserve. In the event that lot 8 is not conveyed to NYCO Minerals, Inc. pursuant to this paragraph NYCO Minerals, Inc. nevertheless shall convey to the state for incorporation into the forest preserve not less than the same number of acres of/and that is disturbed by any mineral sampling operations conducted on said lot 8 pursuant to this paragraph on condition that the legislature shall determine that the lands to be received by the state are equal to or greater than the value of the lands disturbed by the mineral sampling operations.”