Thursday, August 23, 2018

NYCO Mine Expansion Into Wilderness Falters

NYCO mineRemember when New Yorkers approved an Adirondack land swap to keep a mine in business and its employees on the job?

It hasn’t exactly worked out as planned so far.

Five years ago voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing NYCO Minerals to pursue a mine expansion onto the Adirondack Forest Preserve on the east side of the Jay Mountain Wilderness. Local politicians backed it for its potential economic boost, while some environmentalists got on board because of a proposed land swap that could grow the preserve.

Others feared the precedent of permitting resource development in a wilderness.

As it turns out, none of it has happened. The company’s new owners never pursued the swap and have laid off workers.

The mine north of Elizabethtown drilled some tests on the public land in question, called Lot 8, but never mined there or traded private lands with the state. The international company now in control laid off local workers and so far has left the wollastonite ore in the ground.

“It just sits there in limbo,” former NYCO CEO Peter Goodwin said.

The company won’t talk. The workers are mad. Environmentalists continue to have mixed feelings.

Read the full story at the Adirondack Explorer.

Photo of the mine east east of the Jay Mountain Wilderness was meant to expand with a land swap by Carl Heilman II.

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Brandon Loomis is a former Adirondack Explorer editor.

11 Responses

  1. Pete Nelson says:

    Almanack Readers: go read the full story at the Explorer Web site. It should not surprise anyone that this is happening. It certainly did not surprise me: I predicted this in a series of columns when the NYCO amendment, which I strongly opposed as a Faustian bargain, passed.

    At the time I advocated for maintaining a regional memory concerning this land swap, so that when a proposal for taking from the Forest Preserve for private gain arose again with NYCO as a precedent, we could make a more informed, smarter decision than we did with Lot 8. Here’s what I wrote back then, including an update about Imerys written when a constitutional convention was under consideration last year:

    Now I hope we will value our regional memory. Even more so, I hope we can take this as another lesson that this Park needs so desperately: the idiotic, epically stale debate between wilderness preservation and the economic health of our communities needs to be retired and the associated rhetoric needs at last to be disbelieved and dismissed. I want wilderness and jobs… and experiences in the rest of the country prove that these do indeed go together. The NYCO amendment was never about local jobs; it was about greed. I say multinational corporations can’t have our Forest Preserve, any more than they can have our local citizen’s jobs as hostages and bargaining chips.

  2. Tony Goodwin says:

    None us know what were the results of the test drilling. Maybe, after all the effort to get the constitutional amendment passed, this was not the “mother lode” of wollastonite.

    If it had been worth exploiting, the Forest Preserve would have gained nearly 1.000 acres. Now not so much, perhaps, but more than was taken. Furthermore, looking at the “glass half-full” side of this issue, The DEC significantly “raised the bar” for actual exploration by requiring an amendment rather than just a Temporary Revocable Permit (TRP) for the exploration before NYCO could even decide whether to pursue an amendment. To me, this is a significant precedent that will deter most, if not all, potentially similar schemes to access the Forest Preserve.

    And, as I said before in this debate, among the greater public there needs to be the idea that the Forest Preserve as it exists does allow some tiny bit of “wiggle room”, thus making the general concept of Forever Wild a bit easier to accept among those who, in their hearts, would like to see the Forest Preserve gone.

    • Zephyr says:

      I don’t buy the argument that we need to make the law of “Forever Wild” easier to accept by weakening it. It has worked great so far, and if anything it needs to be strengthened. The vast majority of New Yorkers support the law and can see how it has benefited all–even those who don’t like it. I have had this argument with more than one person who is obviously well off, runs a business that benefits hugely from the tourism brought by Forever Wild, and still believes that somehow this is evil government overreach. I think it is more about being anti-government than any realistic argument about economic factors.

  3. Tim says:

    Now that they are no longer mining the area in the photo above, when are they going to cover it up?

  4. Chris says:

    The downstate “astroturf” lobbying, only partially referred to in the Explorer article, was apparently a master lesson in paying for political influence. Apparently the amendment was successful by somehow convincing down-state residents to support a plan they knew nothing about nor would ever come in contact with. I think the WSJ had a write up on it calling out the absurdity of the system.

  5. Lee Keet says:

    I agree with Tony as usual and disagree with Pete, possibly for the first time.

    Five years ago I was Government Relations Chair at the Adirondack Council and we were faced with a dilemma. What is our position when someone or some entity offers us a tract of better land for land that has little environmental or other wilderness value? Is there any circumstance where the Forest Preserve could be made stronger by such a swap?

    So we created six conditions under which we, as a board, would agree to support a state proposal for a land swap. Those six conditions were (and are):

    1. The proposed land exchange must be narrowly defined, specific in purpose, limited in scope, and be supported by important public policy objectives;
    2. The land currently in the Forest Preserve proposed for exchange cannot have unique biological, environmental, or hydrologic features, cannot include critical wildlife pathways, and cannot be part of a contiguous parcel that would become non-contiguous after the exchange;
    3. The ecological, biological, hydrological, physiographic, and/or locational qualities of the parcel(s) to be received should be superior to those of the parcel(s) being exchanged, and these qualities of the parcel(s) to be exchanged should be such that the parcel(s) would be a candidate for addition to the Forest Preserve
    absent any exchange proposal.
    4. If a. the land received will not add significantly more acres to the Forest Preserve than contained in the acreage of lands taken out of the Preserve, or b. the appraised value of the parcel(s) being received is not substantially higher than the appraised value of the parcel(s) being given up, then the parcel(s) to be received must be overwhelmingly superior to that being exchanged, taking into consideration biodiversity, flora, fauna, animal pathways, watershed characteristics, streams, lakes and other water-bodies in the parcel(s);
    5. Any impact of the proposed exchange on local communities must be, on balance, substantially to the benefit of those communities;
    6. Taken as a whole, the proposed land exchange must achieve a significant improvement to the Forest Preserve and/or a long term benefit either to the local communities being affected or to the People of the State in general.

    To be honest, we did not expect the NYCO deal to meet all those hurdles, but DEC accepted them as did NYCO. Had the then-owners completed their side of the bargain everyone would have won; the Forest Preserve would have gotten stronger and a lot of jobs would have been saved.

    I remain proud of the work we did, proud of Joe Martens for moving DEC to such a pro-Park policy, and proud of the people of the state for being so pragmatic. If another opportunity like this arose and all six conditions could be met I would again support the exchange.

    • Tim says:

      I would like to see a 7th condition that says such a land swap will not result in raping the land and creating another horrible eyesore adjacent to a wilderness area.

  6. Paul says:

    What were the results of the test drilling? Is there a mother load? Is the market still there? A few facts here would be useful.

  7. Todd Eastman says:

    When does the offer expire?

  8. Tony Goodwin says:

    Thank you Lee for reminding us of the conditions that the Council believed should be met before supporting the exchange. Meeting those conditions clearly made the Forest Preserve both larger and stronger – in part because of the “high bar” the DEC set before any exploration could take place.

    Nearly 40 years ago, the last big land exchange, Perkins Clearing, took place. The Sierra Club (and perhaps others) opposed the deal because they believed the State was taking too much land that had been timbered while giving the company land that was totally uncut. However, I don’t think anyone now opposes this swap since it consolidated the checkerboard of land ownership and allowed the expansion of the West Canada Lakes Wilderness Area.

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