Thursday, June 12, 2014

APA Panel Votes To Allow NYCO Drilling In Wilderness

vernal poolThe Adirondack Park Agency’s State Land Committee voted unanimously today to allow NYCO Minerals to conduct exploratory drilling in the Jay Mountain Wilderness on a parcel known as Lot 8.

Dick Booth, the chairman of the committee, acknowledged that some green activists oppose the test drilling on legal and environmental grounds.

“This may well get litigated, but that’s not a surprise,” Booth said before the vote.

The committee voted to amend the Jay Mountain Wilderness management plan to allow the drilling. The full APA board is expected to approve the same amendment on Friday. (The board did indeed pass the amendment without further discussion.)

In November, the public voted to amend Article 14 of the state constitution to permit the state to give Lot 8 to NYCO in exchange for lands of equal or greater value. Before the swap occurs, however, NYCO wants to conduct test drills to ascertain the amount of wollastonite below the surface.

Ordinarily, the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan would bar such industrial activity in a Wilderness Area, but APA lawyer James Townsend told the committee that the constitutional amendment “overrides inconsistent provisions” of the master plan.

Earthjustice, which represents several environmental groups, maintains that the APA must amend the master plan, conduct a survey of Lot 8’s natural resources, and follow a number of other environmental laws before allowing the drilling to take place.

“The inadequate description of existing conditions and impacts, lack of scientifically supported analysis, internal inconsistencies, and failure to provide adequate protection and mitigation all suggest an unnecessarily rushed and ill-considered process. The Forest Preserve and public deserve better,” said Earthjustice attorney Debora Goldberg in a May 30 letter to the APA and state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Peter Bauer of Protect the Adirondacks and David Gibson of Adirondack Wild, whose organizations are among those represented by Earthjustice, said they were not surprised by today’s vote.

“We expected it,” Bauer said. “The debate was not very vigorous.”

He and Gibson said they did not know if their organizations would sue the APA to block the drilling.

NYCO hopes to begin drilling this year and finish by next spring.

If it finds sufficient reserves of wollastonite—a mineral used in plastics and ceramics—NYCO plans to give the state about 1,500 acres in exchange for Lot 8, which is 200 acres.

If NYCO decides not to mine Lot 8, it would be required to restore the area disturbed by the drilling and to give the state a parcel of land equal or greater in size to the disturbed area. DEC says only about 7.5 acres of Lot 8 would be disturbed.

Photo: Adirondack Wild explores a vernal pool on Lot 8.


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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

17 Responses

  1. Jim S. says:

    We voted for it so I think we will have a hard time fighting against it. I personally voted for it on the recommendation of the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Adirondack Council,but the more I read about it the more I think I made a mistake. I will never again vote for anything that compromises wilderness.

    • Daniel N says:

      Jim S:

      You are right (IMHO) that you erred in voting for this measure – Article XIV clearly states that: “The lands currently constituting….shall never be…EXCHANGED…”

      However, votes cannot be undone, and that is okay. I don’t really blame you – I blame ADK, as they influenced people who were unable (time issues, perhaps) to look into the issue properly. We have been supposed to be able to trust them to offer us sound advice on issues that we cannot always look into entirely.

      A large number of people have committed to withdrawing support from ADK as a result of their decision to support this. May we invite you to join us?

      • Colvin says:

        The purpose of putting the “the lands currently constituting . . . shall never be . . . exchanged” language in the constitution was to prevent the legislature and State agencies from exchanging the land, as had occurred prior to 1895. Henceforth, decisions about whether any such land could be exchanged was placed in the hands of the people via constitutional amendment. Nothing in the Constitution prevents the people from amending any part of the forever wild clause through constitutional amendment, and they made their decision regarding the NYCO amendment in November.

        Regarding the claim that ADK influenced people who were unable to look into the situation properly, one could just as easily argue that it was actually Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild who influenced people who were unable to look into the situation properly. How many people who voted on Prop 5 in November, whether for or against, knew all of the details of the amendment? I bet a very, very small minority. In any event, it doesn’t matter–the amendment passed and is now part of the Constitution.

        I’m sure that ADK and the Council must have thought long and hard before deciding to support the amendment–I think they must have been were looking at the big picture –approximately 1500 acres would come into the Preserve with better natural resource and recreational values than the 200 acres that is the subject of this controversy; local government support for the acquisition of those 1500 acres with no opportunity for them to veto the acquisitions; the larger political situation in the Adirondacks, etc. Perhaps ADK and the Council became more influential with the current administration on other Adirondack issues because of their support of this amendment. We will never know. It’s easy to say that 200 acres of wilderness should never be taken out of the Preserve, but in my view that is an overly simplistic position that fails to take into account the nuances of the amendment.

  2. Bob S says:

    I live in the Park and voted against it. I believe the downstate vote is what may have carried it. In my opinion, it is the wrong direction to be moving. Once the door is opened ever so slightly, the wedge of greed will force all areas to do the same. This was a bad precedence to set for the Park.

  3. the decision is a key exhibit in the further eroding of public land – state or federal – in our land. And it represents further industrialization of the land. The wildlife that’s there now will either be killed or have to move on. That’s a difficult chore for terrestrial (non-flying) critters. So, yes goes the vote and big money wins.

  4. John Jongen says:

    The vote to amend Article 14 of the state constitution to permit the state to give Lot 8 to NYCO in exchange for lands of equal or greater value was not intended to permit NYCO to commit ecocide in the Adirondack Park. Environmental laws to protect public safety and the health of the environment still apply and must be followed before commencing any test drilling.

  5. scottvanlaer says:

    That is a spectacular vernal pool!

  6. Dave Gibson says:

    scottvanlaer: you are right, the amphibian expert who accompanied Adirondack Wild to see this vernal pool on Lot 8 considered it highly productive and significant for breeding spotted salamanders and wood frogs. Yet, it lies within 150 feet of the current open pit mine and very close to the areas where NYCO wants to exploratory drill. State agencies have not required NYCO to undertake any ecological site analysis prior to tree cutting, and construction/operation of the drilling pads. That is one reason why Earthjustice has been working on our behalf to convince DEC and APA to require a full environmental review of this activity, as we believe the law requires. Thanks for writing.

    • Paul says:

      Closer than the 150 feet that it already is to the working mine?

      Dave, what created this pool? Is it a natural pool? Last spring (around easter) I was on the Santa Clara easement lands and “heard” down a road what I thought was a flock of some type of birds. I went down to investigate and found a pool created by a clogged road culvert that was teeming (I mean thousands probably) with frogs that I assume were mating based on all the noise. I have never seen or heard anything like it. Do you suppose those were wood frogs. They were small relatively dark frogs. I didn’t want to disturb them so I didn’t get too close.

  7. Paul says:

    The fact that Dick Booth chairs this committee and that he supported approval with his vote makes me think that the state is probably on pretty solid legal ground with this course of action.

    A lawsuit would probably just be a way for these organizations to lose more of their resources which can be put to better use than with opposing things that they probably cannot change.

    • Paul says:

      Here is what Booth told Chris Knight (from NCPR)

      “Obviously this is controversial,” Booth said. “My reading of this is it seems to make sense to me, the strategy DEC’s lawyers and Jim Townsend have come up with. This may well get litigated, and that’s not a surprise. But I think, given the vote of the public, this is what the public anticipated would happen.”

  8. Phil Brown says:

    Just to follow up: The full APA board voted unanimously today for the UMP change, without further discussion.

  9. Jim S says:

    Daniel N.: My big mistake was in thinking NYCO would obey existing environmental laws and not use it as a reason to treat wilderness as a “brownfield site”. The idea of jobs in the north country was the biggest factor for me(even though I am from downstate). ADK is not perfect but I will stick with them because of their outreach programs that help raise awareness of environmental issues. I am certainly going to look into Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild and may support them as well. The more advocates the better.

  10. Hawthorn says:

    Where in the law is a single job protected? There is no mention of jobs. NYCO basically gets to test the site for free, with little environmental oversight, and only if they find millions of dollars worth of minerals do they then have to pay any significant amount. If they find no additional minerals what happens to those jobs?

    • Paul says:

      It allows them to do work that requires workers. Maybe not many but obviously some.

      To answer the last question, there won’t be any jobs saved or created. But if they do there will be.

      There is some risk involved that was clear from the way the amendment was drafted. People who didn’t want to take that risk with the land should have voted no.

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