Vote No on Proposition 5 on November 5, 2013

October 4, 2013

The November ballot this year will feature six Constitutional Amendments. Two involve land exchanges involving the Forest Preserve. PROTECT opposes Proposition 5, known as the “NYCO” amendment, while supporting Proposition 4, known as the “Township 40” amendment. Proposition 5 seeks to transfer 200 acres of Forest Preserve lands in the Jay Mountain Wilderness, in the highlands of the Town of Lewis in northern Essex County, to NYCO Minerals, Inc., a mining company that operates a 250-acre mine bordering the Forest Preserve.

PROTECT opposes this amendment because it sets a terrible precedent for the Forest Preserve, the bill language is vague with too many uncertainties, the Forest Preserve lands to be exchanged with NYCO are old growth forests, and NYCO has long planned to move from its Lewis mine to a new fully permitted mine nearby called Oakhill (see map below), which ensures its long-term mineral supply.

This is a bad deal for the Forest Preserve and Protect the Adirondacks urges people to vote no on this ballot question.

Catskill Mountainkeeper says VOTE NO on Proposition 5.

Newsday editorializes to VOTE NO on Proposition 5.

The Times Union in Albany calls upon New Yorkers to vote no on Proposition 5.

John Davis of the Wildlands Networks explains why he is voting no on Prop 5.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) opposes this amendment. Read an op-ed in the Syracuse Post Standard that makes the case for a no vote. Read an op-ed in the Journal News arguing for a no vote.

The Atlantic States Legal Foundation calls for a “No Vote” on Proposition 5.

Follow the vote no efforts on Facebook and get involved.

Joining PROTECT in opposition to Proposition 5 is Adirondack Wild, the Sierra Club and the Atlantic States Legal Foundation, among others. Click here for more information to access a website opposed to Proposition 5. Click here and take a tour of the dynamic rich old growth forest that will be destroyed in Proposition 5 passes.

PROTECT sees four big problems with Proposition 5: 1) bad precedent (see Vote No fact sheet 1); 2) uncertainty and problems with what the legislation authorizes (see Vote No fact sheet 4); 3) NYCO has already planned for and secured a second mine (see Vote No fact sheet 2; and 4) Forest Preserve lands to be swapped with NYCO contain high acreages of old growth (see Vote No fact sheet 3).

See an excellent editorial in the Lake George Mirror that makes the case for a no vote. See an terrific op-ed in the Adirondack Almanack by a noted Forest Preserve writer who supports a no vote on Proposition 5.

Bad Precedent: PROTECT finds this proposal totally contrary to the “Forever Wild” clause in State Constitution, the only Article of the Constitution adopted unanimously by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1894, the first 54 words of which remain unchanged to this day. The proposal is contrary to the consistent theme of the few Amendments enacted since 1894: each was limited in scope; each was in furtherance of a public, not a private purpose; and, each resulted in a net benefit to the Forest Preserve.

Past amendments include the expansion of a town cemetery in Keene, expansion of a public airport in Arietta (which was done twice), preservation of the Great Camp Sagamore as an interpreted museum, needed improvements for a public water supply for the Raquette Lake community in the Town of Long Lake, minimization of public utility routes and impacts from the Stark Falls dam to the Village to Tupper Lake. The only other Constitutional Amendment that involved a private benefit was the “Perkins Clearing” land swap between the DEC and International Paper Company in the mid-1980s, where a checkerboard series of intertwined holdings were swapped so that each side had a large contiguous block of forest to manage.

The proposed NYCO proposal breaks with historic precedent because it would be the first Forest Preserve Constitutional Amendment solely to be undertaken for private commercial gain rather than for a public municipal purpose.

Uncertain, Muddled Bill Language: The legislation that was passed approved only the Amendment that is scheduled to be voted on in November. No “enabling legislation” was passed that enumerated a process by which this land swap will follow. The bill states that NYCO will transfer to the state lands of greater or equal value and of not less than $1 million. In exchange, NYCO will receive the right to conduct “mineral sampling” that will determine if mining and a land swap is viable and to determine the value of the lands to be swapped.

The “Township 40″ amendment (Proposition 4) included enabling legislation that details the process by which this amendment will be implemented. There is no enabling legislation with the NYCO amendment, hence the public does not know what it is actually voting for.

This legislation contains numerous uncertainties. “Mineral sampling” involves drilling with heavy equipment and road building. This involves severe changes to the Forest Preserve. If NYCO abandons mining plans after drilling, new lands will be added to the Forest Preserve commensurate the value of lands damaged during mineral exploration.

The DEC has provided a menu of possible nearby lands that could be purchased by NYCO and then added to the Forest Preserve in exchange for the 200 acres of Lewis Lot 8 in the Jay Mountain Wilderness. Yet, there are no contracts, no legislation, no formal agreements to secure these lands.

The public is being asked to vote without knowing exactly what it is getting in return and with scant knowledge of the true nature of the old growth forest that will be destroyed. This is bad simply bad process. This is not how the public Forest Preserve should be managed. Nothing is guaranteed for the public. If NYCO finds no ore worth mining, it can simply walk away from the lands with a modest payment for damage from roads constructed and test areas dug up.

NYCO has a Long-term Supply and Second Mine Nearby: NYCO started mining in the Champlain Valley in the 1950s. In the early 1970s, it opened a mine on Seventy Mountain in the Town of Lewis. NYCO called this the Lewis mine and it received one of the first permits from the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) for a 30-acre open mining pit on a 260-acre tract. The west wall of the mine pit borders Forest Preserve lands in the Jay Mountain Wilderness. NYCO is seeking to gain access to 200 acres in the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area to expand its Lewis mine.

NYCO operates two mines in the Town of Lewis and has a long-term supply of ore.

NYCO built and operates a processing plant in Willsboro. NYCO crushes rock on site and then trucks tons of wollastonite embedded in rock to this plant where it is separated and processed. Wollastonite is used in various products. NYCO employs around 100 people.

NYCO started expanding the Lewis mine in the mid-1990s. That meant that it blasted more often and delivered more rock and ore to Willsboro. To get to the Lewis mine, big NYCO trucks operate on narrow, steep and twisting town roads. Expansion allowed over 60 truck trips daily, which is over 120 truck trips up and down these narrow residential roads. For neighbors, the screeching trucks and the blasting is a constant nuisance; sometimes windows shatter. In these years, residents around the mine and along the truck route formed The Residents for Responsible Mining, which at its peak had over 100 families that tried to intervene in the permit process to protect their homes, safety and overall rural quality of life.

By the late 1990s, NYCO began to plan for the point when the Lewis mine had exhausted its wollastonite supply. In 1996, NYCO estimated that it had 3-5 years of continuous supply remaining in the Lewis mine. In, 1997, NYCO went through a full blown APA adjudicatory public hearing for a brand new mine two miles away from the Lewis mine. The new mine is called Oakhill mine (see page 18). At Oakhill, NYCO owns 455 acres and this facility was permitted to begin with a 30-acre mining pit and through subsequent permits the mine has expanded to over 50 acres. NYCO built its own private access road to Oak Hill that enters directly onto Route 9. There are many fewer issues at the Oakhill mine with neighboring residents than at the Lewis mine.

At the time it secured the initial Oakhill mine permit. NYCO stated emphatically that it would not operate two mines more than a few years as it opened the Oakhill mine and phased out, closed, and then reclaimed the Lewis mine.

In 2002, NYCO received a new permit for the Oakhill mine from the APA where it stated that it had signed a 10-year contract with Graymount, a major supplier of crushed stone for highway construction and other purposes. Through this partnership, NYCO got paid by Graymount to rip apart Oakhill and remove the overburden to expose the wollastonite veins. Graymount has a processing plant a short distance away on Route 9. This deal remains in place today and seems like it has worked well for both companies. The APA has given NYCO a series of new permits to allow for ever greater volumes on the “aggregate” overburden rock to be mined by Graymount on Oakhill. Now, 180,000 tons annually of aggregate rock is removed from Oakhill.

In 2006, NYCO submitted a “25-Year Plan” to the APA. NYCO stated that it would wind down the Lewis mine by 2015 and have the Oakhill mine up to maximum capacity the following year in 2016. Moreover, the report stated that the wollastonite NYCO would extract from Oakhill was higher quality, making its mining activities more efficient.

Supporters of Proposition 5 falsely paint this land swap as do-or-die for NYCO. This simply is not the case. Supporters make no mention of the fact that NYCO has secured numerous permits for a second mine just two miles away from its existing mine and has been working in the second mine for more than a decade to prepare it for wollastonite mining.

Any statement that NYCO will leave the state if Proposition 5 is unsuccessful is simply false. NYCO’s future is not contingent on this proposed Constitutional Amendment. Its “25-Year Plan” submitted to the APA detailed its plans to transition from the Lewis mine to the Oakhill mine.

NYCO has received a string of permit amendments and new permits for the Oakhill mine to build a new access road, increase the amount of aggregate its subcontractor removes, conduct late season mining activities, build wetlands, and an assortment of other mine related activities. NYCO has made a major investment in building and readying the Oakhill mine for wollastonite extraction. The Oakhill mine is a fully functioning mine. NYCO has been planning for years to transition wollastonite mining activities to Oak Hill.

NYCO, and area political representatives, put enormous pressure on the APA in 1998 to approve the new Oakhill mine permit. If it did not get Oakhill, they would close. Now the song has changed to one where NYCO will close without the Constitutional Amendment. This is not a legitimate argument.

Loss of Old Growth Forest: The 200 acres of Forest Preserve lands to be given to NYCO include hundreds, if not thousands, of old growth large diameter sugar maple, red maple, and yellow birch, among other trees. Many of these trees have diameters over 30 inches.

This forest possesses many of the telltale signs of eastern old growth forests. It also contains numerous vernal pools. The saw timber value of these trees alone is immense. Who will reap the benefit of hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, in timber value from clearing old growth forests? What will the state get in return? Between 1,000-1,500 acres of heavily cut over forests crisscrossed with logging roads.

Vote No on Proposition 5: If this Constitutional Amendment goes through and is approved by the voters it means that there is no place in New York beyond the reach of commerce. It means that there is no place beyond the desires of various corporations and their political bidders. It means that there is no place that is truly forever wild.

Previous post:

Next post: