Just last Friday the Adirondack Park Agency approved an amendment to the Jay Mountain Wilderness Unit Management Plan (UMP) to allow NYCO Minerals to conduct exploratory drilling on the 200 acre parcel known as Lot 8. This drilling will allow NYCO to determine whether they want to swap Lot 8 for other land to be given to the State, as authorized by the amendment.
The NYCO Amendment was controversial because it proposed a public benefit and gain for the Forest Preserve by compromising Forever Wild land for the benefit of a private commercial interest. Supporters pointed to a net increase in land for the park because of the potential State acquisition of up to 1,500 acres of land in exchanging for allowing mining on the 200 acres of Lot 8, which after it was mined would be required to be restored and returned to the State. They also cited the importance of job preservation and economic benefits to be had by allowing NYCO to continue mining at the site. Opponents saw it as a taking that violated both the letter and spirit of Article XIV. They saw the benefit to a private corporation as establishing a bad precedent and argued that NYCO, with other active Wollastonite mines, did not need the expanded mine on Lot 8 in order to preserve jobs or profits.
Controversial or not, the amendment passed last November by 53% to 47% and became the law of the land.
In the last few weeks the controversy returned, this time over whether the APA could authorize exploratory drilling without following the existing body of law governing Wilderness areas – specifically the State Land Master Plan (SLMP) and Jay UMP – before the State conveyed the parcel to NYCO. With Friday’s unanimous vote the APA has emphatically answered that question in the affirmative. Barring litigation from a third party, the matter is settled: NYCO will begin exploratory drilling on Wilderness land, probably in late July.
I opposed the NYCO Amendment. I saw it as a compromise of arguably the most powerful act of land protection in history for corporate gain. I saw it as a establishing a precedent on that basis, one that sets the table for future erosions. I saw it, in short, as a Faustian bargain.
Now, as drilling is set to begin, I see the NYCO Amendment as a lesson to be learned. But we can only learn from it if we are vigilant, if we document what happens and how it happens and if we preserve a regional memory about this event. This is a critically important thing to do if we are to prevent future erosions of Forever Wild. Someday there will be people who, in wanting to justify some new amendment, will say that this one did not set a precedent, that there was a net gain for the Forest Preserve, that jobs were saved or created. We must be able to hold these claims accountable with more than anecdotes and rhetoric. We didn’t do so well at it this time and we need to learn from it. It may be that some or all of our fears are unfounded or it may not. Either way the stakes are important for the Adirondacks.
There is no better place to create and archive this regional memory than the Almanack.
The first task in creating a regional memory for the NYCO Amendment should be to establish a baseline to measure its effects against the claims made by its proponents. Others have already been doing an important piece of that work by investigating and reporting on what Lot 8 contains – by inventorying the wild asset, if you will. That work will continue, as well as work to assess the impact of drilling as NYCO moves forward.
I will make a different contribution. My opposition to the amendment came largely from my experience in seeing how large corporations go about the work of making money. The very idea that we should benefit the corporate world by relinquishing Wilderness that was meant to be forever protected is utterly contrary to that experience. Therefore my interest will be in establishing the corporate side of the baseline. In a column this Saturday I will begin to do that by asking a simple question: who is NYCO?
Many will claim that there is no value in re-fighting the amendment battle with further litigation or continuing opinion pieces. While I am dismayed at the amendment and the precedents I believe it entails – just one illustration being the APA decision Friday – I agree with this view. I would not be supportive of litigation at this point and I have no interest in crafting columns that continue to talk about how awful this is.
But documenting the aftermath of the NYCO Amendment, laying out the facts and creating that regional memory, is not fighting this battle: it is fighting future battles. On that front, I’m all in.
Photo: NYCO’s wollastonite mine which will be extended into Lot 8 of the Forest Preserve. Photo by Nancie Battaglia