Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Adirondack Uranium: A Lewis County Boondoggle

In late summer 1955, after two months of surveying and studying uranium deposits in Saratoga County, Robert Zullo and his partners, George McDonnell and Lewis Lavery, saw their claims publicly dismissed in print by a business rival, who told the Leader-Herald there were “no major deposits of uranium in the Sacandaga region.” Geologist John Bird of Schenectady had been hired by a Wyoming uranium-mining company to survey the area, and after thirty days, he had found uraninite only in “ridiculously small” quantities.

Worse yet, the pegmatites here were different from those in Ontario, he said. Scientifically, the elements within were considered nearly inseparable, and even if a method were available, extracting any valuable minerals would prove cost prohibitive. “No reputable mining outfit would invest on the basis of finding such small amounts,” said Bird. “Were there any deposits, we would have been able to detect them.”

He was, in effect, throwing a wet blanket on the excitement surrounding the Mohawk Mining Company’s potential future, and discouraging others from prospecting. After Bird’s comments appeared in newspapers, only a few hopeful prospectors were seen in one of the “hot” areas, from Batchellerville to Northville. But Zullo said they were moving forward with plans to mine on 71 acres leased from Dr. Harry Howard of Amsterdam and restaurant owners Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Richter. The MMC was joined by geologist Richard Brown of Mayfield, who pointed out that Bird’s assessment focused on the polycrase found in the Overlook area, roughly nine miles northeast of Zullo’s deposits, which were polycrase-free. After his own study of various mineral amounts found in feldspar tailings, Brown calculated the percentages still remaining in the ground and shared the results with the Times-Union.

“It is estimated that several tens of thousands of cubic feet of tailing will average 0.1 per cent of uranium oxide. By means of an inexpensive concentrating mill, the tailing could be mined profitably for the uraninite. The pegmatite, it is calculated, will run less than 0.05 per cent of uranium oxide, but if the feldspar, mica, and beryl can be marketed, the mine can be operated.”

A feldspar processing plant at nearby Broadalbin was soon to reopen, said Brown, to process material from Canada. “Negotiations are under way to arrange for Condor Ceramic to handle feldspar from Batchellerville, and thus enable the tailings to be concentrated for the uraninite and beryl.”

In December, a Buffalo firm began drilling test holes on the property of Oscar York at the Overlook area, while Zullo’s team engaged the Rochester & Pittsburgh Coal Company of Indiana to do the same on Dr. Howard’s property, where Brown believed the ore vein might extend west about two miles to Fox Hill. Area resident Ralph Green had received multiple offers from companies seeking mineral rights to his 250 acres at Fox Hill, but decided to wait for further developments.

From seven sites on the MMC properties, five truckloads of rock were harvested before winter weather issues halted the drilling. Testing of the material would reveal the company’s future, the success of which depended upon two factors: that uranium was present in quantities sufficient for mining, and that minerals like mica, feldspar, beryllium, and others were present in amounts that would prove profitable.

Alas, analysis results found what several experts had claimed all along: the deposits were fragmented rather than continuous, and even if adequate quantities were found, it would be far too expensive to extract ore of sufficient quality.

In late April 1956, just when it appeared the North Country uranium boom had gone bust, the Adirondack Uranium and Mineral Corporation (AUMC) burst on the scene with newspaper advertisements offering 300,000 shares at one dollar each. Another 300,000 shares were in the hands of the company’s four owners, who claimed to be vying for mineral rights on Lewis County properties located between Lowville and Boonville (Boonville, in Oneida County, is just south of the Lewis County line).

AUMC named their competition as Canadian Mining, Ltd., which, according to local resident John Doney, made “an outright offer of $100,000” for 20 percent of the net profit from any minerals mined on his land. Doney said he was leaning towards Adirondack Uranium if, instead of the net, they would agree to pay him 20 percent of the gross during a ten-year period. At the time, uranium was the world’s most sought after and expensive mineral, valued at $125,000 per pound.

Adirondack Uranium, whose offices were in Whitesboro, just west of Utica, said that valuable ores were discovered in Lewis County by using a Geiger counter in a low-flying helicopter during the previous fall. In spring, they confirmed the readings using a scintillator (a more sensitive instrument) and pursued the mineral rights on three farms — Doney’s, on which the deposit was centered, and the adjacent properties of Milton Ramos and Louis Archer, where the vein extended. The ore was believed to be uranium, but because monazite, a radioactive substance often association with gold, was present in the region, they couldn’t yet be certain what lay beneath the surface.

Whatever it was, they wasted no time in seeking the mineral rights on approximately 5,000 acres, which included other farms owned by Emmett Young and Louis Archer. According to company officials, “preliminary surveys” indicated the presence of uranium or silver, but in unknown quantities. By mid-June, plans were in place to dynamite portions of Doney’s farm in search of uranium, and to further survey where the veins ran. A month later, the company announced they were awaiting further test results from Washington, but that preliminary findings derived at Utica were “exciting.”

In early August, several company representatives revealed sensational news to Hugh Snyder of the Syracuse Post-Standard. Vernelle T. Smith, stock transfer agent for the company, said a vein of uranium worth an estimated $400,000 had been found between Brantingham Lake and Lyons Falls in Lewis County. Unlike other area strikes that had equaled or fallen short of the federal government’s minimum content of 0.1 percent uranium oxide, this ore was claimed to yield 0.25 percent — two and a half times more! The analysis was reportedly performed by “a large New York City chemical and consultant firm,” but for some unexplained reason, Smith said he couldn’t reveal the company’s name “without written permission.” A somewhat cryptic comment was also offered by the company’s attorney, Kenneth Creaser, who said they would bring testing equipment to the site “if lease negotiations are completed in time,” not bothering to explain what “in time” meant.

Charles Colbey of Rome, New York, a vice-president of the company, added, “I believe we’ve struck pay dirt. We have been looking for a strike like this for a long time.” (The company’s other officers were Charles Stahl, president, and Howard Newth, vice-president.) The firm’s geologist, Lewis Marlane of Lowville, estimated that the ore vein was more than 200 feet long, ten feet wide, and deep enough “to produce 54 tons of ore.”

The story made front-page headlines in the Syracuse Post-Standard and was circulated by the Associated Press. But two weeks later, a Utica reader, William D. Williams, wrote a letter to the editor, taking the newspaper to task in a piece titled, “Faulty Arithmetic.” He analyzed the information in the uranium article and provided an eye-opening conclusion: that 54 tons (108,000 pounds) of ore containing 0.25 percent uranium oxide would yield 270 pounds, which, valued at $5.50 per pound, was worth $1485 — not $600,000, the original value placed on the company in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Williams added a final important point, addressing the inflated projection of the uranium oxide’s worth: “In order to get $400,000 oxide value, 13,800 tons of this quality ore would be needed, or 250 times the quantity reported.”

Mr. Williams may have been the first to notice the problematic calculations, but he wasn’t the only one. After investigating, the SEC announced in early October that the company’s registration privileges on the offering of 300,000 shares were suspended. Were they to remain in business, Adirondack Uranium first had to explain four charges alleged in the SEC order:

(1) the estimate of a $400,000 uranium vein was made without adequate supporting data and is, therefore, unjustified; (2) the estimates of ore in the ground were made without sufficient supporting data; (3) the unqualified statement: “I believe we’ve struck pay dirt. We have been looking for a strike like this for a long time”; and (4) failure to state that the sample analysis results could not be interpreted as representative of the potential tonnage remaining in the ground.

The company’s responses proved inadequate, and in late January 1957, the state attorney general, Louis Lefkowitz, permanently banned the Adirondack Uranium and Minerals Corporation from trading securities in New York State. In addition to the previous reasons for shutting them down, others were cited: even if a large ore bed existed, the company failed to state that “the cost of shipping the alleged find of uranium to a processing mill would have been prohibitive and not commercially feasible”; the company president, “a comparative neophyte in the uranium mining business, became overly excited by the click of a Geiger counter … and neglected to fulfill his duties to investors”; and in its haste to secure financing from the public, “the corporation even neglected to file a dealer’s statement … to engage in the securities business in this state, in violation of New York law.”

Whether intentionally or through ignorance, the company had lured investors by using false and misleading claims. The state’s firm response brought an end to the latest Adirondack foray into uranium mining. Following the ruling, the company dissolved and began returning investment dollars to approximately 1,500 shareholders.

Next week, the conclusion: more discoveries, and an official report on Adirondack uranium

Photos: headline, Leader-Herald (1955); headline, Leader-Herald, Gloversville and Johnstown (1955); headline, Leader-Herald (1956); advertisement, Oswego Palladium-Times (1956); headline, Rome Daily Sentinel (1956); advertisement, Amsterdam Evening Recorder (1956); headline, Syracuse Post-Standard (1956); opening portion of NYS attorney general press release (1957).

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Lawrence P. Gooley

Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

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