by Charles C. Morrison
The Atlantic Chapter urges a resounding “no” vote on November 5 for the proposition to amend Section 1 of Article 14 of the State Constitution, the “forever wild” provision, to allow NYCO Minerals Inc. to mine wollastonite ore on a 200-acre parcel of Adirondack forest preserve, a.k.a. Lot 8. This lot adjoins one of NYCO’s currently operating open pit mines, the Lewis mine, in the Lake Champlain Valley in the Town of Lewis, Essex County.
It is critically important to send a message, through your “no” vote, to the Legislature, the governor and business interests that the intent and purposes of Article 14 are not to be trivialized and the state forest preserve is not for sale to benefit private corporations, at any price. No exceptions, no compromises, no deals.
If, after reading this article, you agree with the Sierra Club’s position, you can help by showing it to your friends and colleagues.
The Lewis mine opened in the 1970s. NYCO says it will soon run out of ore to mine there unless voters allow NYCO to break through its boundary with the forest preserve (Lot 8) to continue mining, following exploration. If it finds an economic vein or deposit, NYCO will give 1,500 acres or more of land to the state to add to the forest preserve. If nothing is found through exploration, Lot 8 will just be rehabilitated and returned to the State.
In that case, however, the state will receive no other land in exchange and the net gain in forest preserve land that the “yes” voters have bargained for will be a bust. In other words, voters are being asked to “buy a pig in a poke.” We may get 1,500 acres or more of new forest preserve land—or they may get nothing.
Wollastonite is a white, inert, nonhazardous ingredient used in man-made fibers, replacing asbestos. It also is an additive in paint, ceramics, plastics, friction products and various building products.
The state Legislature passed resolutions in 2012 and 2013 to put this question on the ballot in the first statewide general election. However, its members didn’t do their homework.
Nothing was said about the fact that NYCO opened a second mine at Oak Hill in the late 1990s, two miles away from its Lewis mine, and that in 2006 the company submitted a 25-year plan to the State to phase out its Lewis mine and transition to full operations at Oak Hill by 2016, where the ore is as good or better than at Lewis. This plan currently is being implemented.
If the amendment is approved and NYCO finds economic deposits on Lot 8, trucks bringing out the ore from there would travel the same dusty, winding, unsafe roads that have been a nuisance to more than 100 homeowners for many decades of mining at the Lewis mine.
NYCO has made baseless threats to shut down, leave the Adirondacks and eliminate 95 mining jobs, if they don’t get Lot 8. The reality is that NYCO isn’t going anywhere. First, NYCO has over a $100 million invested in a mill in the Town of Willsboro, where they also have a small third mine, underground. Second, NYCO, looking to the future, is set to explore for more ore on land it owns south of the Lewis mine. Third, New York is the only state in the U.S. where wollastonite is found and the Champlain Valley is the only place where it is found in New York.
Then there is the 25-year plan that NYCO is carrying out for Oak Hill. Finally, NYCO is part of a multi-national company operating on several continents that controls at least 25 % of the world market for wollastonite. It is well-insulated from any economic impact of running out of ore at its Lewis Mine.
Proponents of this land swap cite as precedent the 1979 Perkins Clearing amendment of Article 14, which the Sierra Club opposed, although at the time proponents said that it was a “one-of-a-kind” deal, not a precedent. This was the only amendment in 119 years that primarily benefited a commercial interest.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how good a “deal,” that is how many “pieces of silver” in the form of acres of land, NYCO will put on the table for Lot 8. Any “deal” that benefits a commercial business is fundamentally and irreconcilably inconsistent with the carefully crafted, ironclad words of Article 14 which state that: “The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged or be taken by any corporation public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.”
The integrity and future utility of Article 14 is at stake in this vote. If NYCO’s proposal is approved, precedent for more such “good deals” will be firmly established and forest preserve land in New York will never again be as safe from commercial exploitation as it is right now.
The forest preserve was created in 1885 to shut the door on “deals” such as NYCO proposes. Rapacious timber companies and their political allies exploited New York’s northern forests for decades in the mid-1800s. Still they persisted after 1885. In 1893 a unanimous vote in the Constitutional Convention finally slammed the door by passing the “forever wild” provision that has served as the bedrock principle of New York’s conservation movement ever since then.
Charles C. Morrison is a member of the Chapter’s Adirondack Committee and is the former director of natural resources planning, Executive Division, NYS DEC.