KIM SMITH DEDAM
WILLSBORO — New York state voters will weigh in on a land swap designed to help NYCO Minerals stay in business.
For the second session in two consecutive years, both the State Senate and Assembly passed a measure to amend the State Constitution, allowing NYCO to trade 1,507 acres of forestland in Essex County for temporary access to 200 acres of state land adjoining the firm’s wollastonite mine in the Town of Lewis.
The Assembly passed the measure Wednesday. It earned Senate approval on June 11.
The amendment does not need approval from the governor because it goes to popular vote, according to the State Constitution.
The process for mining and crushing wollastonite was invented at the company’s home office here in 1953.
In a statement issued Wednesday, NYCO said the property next to the mine is a likely source of the rare mineral.
“NYCO proposes to explore for and, if possible, capture (wollastonite), a large reserve of which is believed to exist under Lot 8 (in Lewis).”
If the mineral is not present there, the mining company would reclaim and return the 200 acres to the Forest Preserve.
“NYCO and its 100 employees are pleased — and relieved — that the New York State Assembly and Senate have approved legislation to allow New York voters to decide this fall on a proposed land exchange between the company and the state,” the company said in a prepared statement.
The land swap protects jobs at NYCO while expanding property held in the Adirondack Park Forest Preserve.
The deal drew support from both parties in the legislature, as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens.
Assembly members Dan Stec (R-Glens Falls) and Janet Duprey (R-Peru) both support the swap, along with Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury).
Some environmental groups also said the deal is fair, especially since it maintains much-needed jobs and commerce in the Adirondack Park.
But Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said it sets a “terrible precedent.
“The proposal is totally contrary to the consistent theme of the few Forest Preserve constitutional 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,” he said in a statement.
Bauer contends the mining company misrepresented its mineral deposits in Lewis.
The Adirondack Council, however, praised the swap details and joined forces with Little and Stec in supporting the measure.
“The people of the state would give up 200 acres of Forest Preserve next to an existing wollastonite mine and receive at least 1,500 acres of land containing better wildlife habitat and greater recreational opportunities,” newly hired Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway said in a statement to the press.
“Over time, those 200 acres will come back into the Forest Preserve.”
Janeway said the constitutional amendment is not the first private land exchange brokered for commercial purposes.
“In 1979, the voters approved a swap with International Paper Co. that brought about 10,000 acres of new Forest Preserve to the public in exchange for 7,000 acres of public land. That deal increased the size of the West Canada Lakes Wilderness and reshaped the ownership patterns to make both state and private lands easier to manage,” he said.
The 1,507 acres that would move into state ownership adjoin Jay Mountain Wilderness.
Five parcels would be conveyed by NYCO to the state there, along with a sixth parcel in Taylor Pond Wild Forest.
“The parcels would make excellent additions to the (Jay Mountain) wilderness, which is the smallest of the park’s 17 wilderness areas,” Janeway said.
NYCO began mining wollastonite before the Adirondack Park Agency Act went into effect along with the State Land Master Plan in 1972.
The company maintains a workforce of 102 employees with a payroll of close to $6 million, according to NYCO.
Wollastonite is pounded to a powder and then used to strengthen plastics, paints and adhesives. It is used in the fabrication of car parts, construction materials, ceramics and sealants, among many other uses.
The plant in Willsboro was the first to manufacture and market the unique mineral additive.
And it is a rare mineral, found in few locations. There are wollastonite mines in China, Mexico, India and Finland. The NYCO material is marketed worldwide.
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