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The bill would allow NYCO to expand its wollastonite mine onto land that is now part of the Adirondack forest preserve. Photo: NYCO Minerals
The bill would allow NYCO to expand its wollastonite mine onto land that is now part of the Adirondack forest preserve. Photo: NYCO Minerals

Adirondack land swap divides green groups

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Lawmakers in Albany have a dwindling number of hours to push through a huge backlog of bills.

One of the most controversial issues still on the table from the North Country is a bill in the state Assembly that would allow a land swap in Essex County.

The deal, which passed the state senate earlier this week, would allow a mining company called NYCO Minerals to expand its operations onto roughly 200 acres of state forest preserve land.

In exchange the company -- which operates in Lewis and Willsboro -- has agreed to purchase roughly 1500 acres that would be added to the Park's "forever wild" preserve.

The deal has the backing of two of the region's largest environmental groups. But two other green groups are fiercely opposed to the measure.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

In the final hours of the legislative session last year, the state legislature passed a first reading of a Constitutional amendment that would allow the land swap affecting state forest preserve land in the Park.

At the time, then-Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward called the deal essential.

"NYCO minerals employs 120 people in my hometown [of Willsboro] so I can tell you, they keep our schools open, they're good neighbors," she said.

But changes to the state constitution have to be approved by lawmakers twice before going on the state ballot. And again this year, the deal involving NYCO Minerals has dawdled through the state Assesmbly.

Assemblyman Dan Stec now represents the district. He says he thinks the swap still has a good shot of passing.

Assemblyman Dan Stec says he thinks the measure will squeak through the Assembly. Photo: NYS Governor's office
Assemblyman Dan Stec says he thinks the measure will squeak through the Assembly. Photo: NYS Governor's office
"It's likely to make it through the assembly," he predicted. "The thing that needed to happen is that we needed to get the support from as many environmental groups as possible. Especially the two big ones in the Adirondack Park, the Adirondack Council and ADK."

This part of the political process has been thorny. The Adirondack Mountain Club and the Adirondack Council have both embraced the project.

As part of the swap, the deal would add roughly 1,500 acres of new land to the forest preserve near the Jay Mountain Wilderness.

John Sheehan says on balance that's a good deal for the park and he says his group's support will be key to winning passage.

"I think [the chances of approval in the Assembly] were very slim without our support, probably negligible. Now it has a fighting chance."

The Adirondack Council sparked controversy among environmentalists a couple of years ago when the group signed off on the massive Adirondack Club and Resort project in Tupper Lake.

John Sheehan. Photo: Adirondack Council
John Sheehan. Photo: Adirondack Council
Sheehan says in thinking about projects like these, the Council factors in economic activity and jobs.

"This is a different kind of a park, with 130 tiny communities scattered all over the place," he said. "Taking into account what happens in the communities and how they can fit into the economic picture is always something we want to do."

But two other green groups, Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild are opposing this bill.

This swap...poses a very serious threat to the future of the forest preserve from corporate mining interests. -Dan Plumley, Adirondack Wild
"This land swap poses a Faustian bargain that poses a very serious threat to the forest preserve from corporate mining interests," said Dan Plumley with Adirondack Wild.

He says the mining operation – extracting a mineral called wollastonite – will do enormous harm to 200 acres of Park land that were supposed to be "forever wild."

He says the precedent of pulling land out of protected status for economic reasons is a bad one.

Plumley argued that state officials and the other environmental groups haven't "made their case" that the swap makes sense.

"If it goes before the people of New York state, I believe they will deny it," he predicted.

That last bit is key. If this measure does squeak through the Assembly this week, it would still have to go on the statewide ballot next November – the final step in the constitutional amendment process.

Willsboro town supervisor Ed Hatch says he worries that people in other parts of the state will balk at the deal.

"The question is 'Will it pass with the voters?' I think that's a big problem," he said.

Disagreements within the environmental community aren't uncommon in the park. But if this does go on the state ballot next year, voters around New York will be hearing starkly different message from the different green groups.

Sheehan with the Adirondack Council downplayed the importance of that divide.

"Even though we have very similar points of view, we can disagree about the details of what does and doesn't make a good deal. I think there's little animosity here. It's really a matter of judgment.

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