By KIM SMITH DEDAM
---- — LEWIS — A statewide vote on Tuesday will determine whether New Yorkers will sell 200 acres of state land to a longtime Adirondack mining company.
Proposition 5 looks to amend the State Constitution to convey a piece of the Jay Mountain Wilderness to NYCO Minerals for not less than $1 million.
The Willsboro-based company has proposed exchanging that state land, called Lot 8, for 1,500 acres it owns of forestland around Jay Mountain.
A thick vein of wollastonite runs from NYCO’s Lewis mine pit directly onto Lot 8. And NYCO geologists expect some 50 acres of the uncommon, fibrous ore is hidden beneath the forest there, gauging its marketable value at $1 million.
“If (wollastonite is) present in the expected quantities, NYCO would provide New York state with forest lands worth $1 million or more, adding at least 1,500 acres to the Adirondack Forest Preserve,” the company said in its proposal. “Moreover NYCO would eventually return the original 200 acres, fully reclaimed, to New York state’s ownership.”
Terms of the land exchange have been in geological, administrative and legislative review for more than five years.
Proposition 5 emerged successful through two rounds of State Legislature, passing both the Assembly and Senate this year and last.
Voter approval statewide is required to finalize any transference of state park lands.
PROS AND CONS
Two Adirondack-based environmental groups, Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild, have raised concerns about the proposal, lobbying state voters to reject the land exchange with NYCO.
Other green groups, including the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Adirondack Council, support the measure for its economic balance.
Support also comes from a substantial list of state lawmakers, unions, former Adirondack Park Agency commissioners, business and economic-development councils, town and county officials. On Friday, the New York Times published an opinion piece supporting Proposition 5.
IMPORTANT TO LEWIS
Local lawmakers see Proposition 5 as something larger than an exchange of land.
Dave Blades is supervisor of the Town of Lewis, where the mining pit is located. He told the Press-Republican the land swap is important to his and nearby communities.
“It will maintain employment, and it may also increase employment,” Blades said. “Lewis has been a growing town, according to the 2010 census. I think the important thing, as the town supervisor, is that it will help maintain good-paying jobs for our local residents.
“I’ve been here 45 years, I’ve raised a family here — and two out of our three children had to leave the area for employment. So, we’re losing our young people. Anything we can do to maintain or increase employment opportunity is important, also, to the Adirondack Park.”
Environmentalists at Protect the Adirondacks don’t see the swap in the same light.
Executive Director Peter Bauer said their primary contention is lodged in what he considers a dangerous precedent.
“This is the first time we’ve had a private, for-profit corporation say they want to buy some Forest Preserve, (and) how much will it cost me?
“NYCO’s motive is three-fold: They are making a lot of money leasing their Oak Hill mine (another site in Lewis) out to Graymont Materials.
“Secondly, they are a corporation, and if they can avoid major costs of reclamation and relocating mining operations, that saves a lot of revenue. If they can expand the Lewis pit, then they will be able to defer reclamation costs into the future.
“And third, they’ve said it’s a matter of convenience. Keeping their equipment and operations going at the Lewis Mine is lot more convenient than to move over to Oak Hill.”
The state has never been approached by a private company to buy land, Bauer said.
“We don’t need to start selling the Forest Preserve in order to justify its economic benefits. The park generates millions of dollars in tourism revenue and pays $65 million in property taxes.
“If this exchange goes through, then there are lots of resort operators that would like to get a few hundred acres of Forest Preserve for making a profit. You’ve got a lot of people out there starting to play ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ with the Forest Preserve. One of the reasons we’ve been working hard for a ‘no’ vote is that we don’t think the Forest Preserve should be sold, bit by bit.”
NYCO spokesman John Brodt said Proposition 5 has no bearing on future development decisions in the Adirondack Park.
“Land swaps such as this must be approved on a case-by-case basis by the State Legislature and a majority of New York state voters,” he said in an email response to the Press-Republican.
“The drafters of the State Constitution foresaw that there might be circumstances in which the State Constitution should be amended, and they set up an arduous process that requires the legislature and voters to make these decisions.
“Approval of Proposition 5 would not give the state of New York authority to remove any land from the Forest Preserve other than the 200 acres involved in this particular proposal.”
Part of what is unique about the land swap is NYCO’s particular role in the local economy, local lawmakers say.
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru) believes Proposition 5 supports a mining operation with deep Adirondack roots, sustaining the local economy.
“It took two years to get the amendment passed, but the process started long before then,” she said.
“NYCO was in place before the APA Act was written. They’re providing over 100 good-paying jobs, and the employees are the volunteer firefighters, the softball coaches and the taxpayers: 100 jobs means a lot in Essex County. It truly does.”
Protect also says Proposition 5 does not give voters enough information for a clear decision.
“Usually, we have all the details ironed out. But not in this case. There are a lot of unanswered questions: Does NYCO have rights to 1,500 acres for the swap?” Bauer said.
Brodt says they do.
“We identified six parcels on the map that adjoin state Forest Preserve. Three of the parcels — Deerhead, Derby Brook and Tom’s Hill — are all currently owned by NYCO, he said.
“NYCO has options to purchase Arnold Mountain and Harwood Hill properties and has had productive discussions with the owner of the Spruce Mill Brook tract. All six parcels together total 1,507 acres and would be part of the land exchange. We have been very public in identifying the properties that will be going to the state.”
It is routine for statewide propositions to go to a vote ahead of final logistics, Duprey said.
“The voters have to weigh in first. Once the amendment has been approved, then the particulars are worked out. We’re voting on casinos, too, and nobody knows where they’re going to go.”
Bauer believes the deal is too unclear for voter approval.
“If the voters of New York state say it’s fine to give old growth (forest) to a mining company to be blown apart, then I don’t see any other subsequent proposals going down. And I see a whole bunch of objectionable proposals coming forth in the future,” he said.
Email Kim Smith Dedam:email@example.com
TO LEARN MORE
Proposition 5 will be on the back side of the ballot, so voters will actually have to turn the sheet over to find it.
Read the text of Proposition 5 at: http://tinyurl.com/mnlntxe See the text of Article 14, including the proposed NYCO land swap at: http://tinyurl.com/mnlntxe
Find the Protect the Adirondacks contention against the Land Swap at: http://tinyurl.com/llpjrns
See NYCO information and support for Proposal 5 at: http://tinyurl.com/os4bpbt