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NYCO's Mark Buckley points to the border between mine-owned lands and the state forest preserve.  His company will push that boundary back now that voters have approve the deal. Photo: Brian Mann
NYCO's Mark Buckley points to the border between mine-owned lands and the state forest preserve. His company will push that boundary back now that voters have approve the deal. Photo: Brian Mann

Both Adirondack land swap amendments are approved

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Voters across New York state approved two amendments to the state Constitution that allow land swaps to go forward in the Adirondack Park.

An effort to settle long-standing property disputes in Raquette Lake in Hamilton County passed by a wide margin, with 72-percent support according to unofficial tallies.

A controversial plan by NYCO minerals to mine roughly 200 acres of forest preserve land in the Essex County town of Lewis also passed, though with much narrower support of roughly 53 percent statewide.

Adirondack Bureau Chief Brian Mann talks with Martha Foley about the ballot propositions.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

 

MF: Brian, these were very local— but also a very statewide kind of issue.

BM: Right, this is the weird part of living in the Adirondack Park.  These two ballot initiatives will affect the lives of maybe a thousand local residents.  But because we live in this protected place, with these layers of environmental policy, decisions can sometimes be really complicated.  Roughly one and a half million people voted yesterday on these two issues.  That's kind of amazing.

MF: Let's talk first about Raquette Lake because that's the less controversial one.  Boiled down, this deal will allow homeowners to pay a few thousand dollars to settle property disputes with the state of New York. 

This is a case where the state had claimed that a lot of people and businesses are sitting on top of forest preserve land?

BM: Yeah, it's been a mess because of old banktruptcy cases, bad surveys, lost records.  So it's a whole community that never had clear title to its private land.  Now folks can settle up with the state and that money will be used to buy new forest preserve land.  Town supervisor Clark Seaman told me this week that one possible purchase would be the Mario River Carry parcel, a traditional portage route in the Adirondacks.  This money could be used to protect that land.

MF: Okay, now NYCO minerals in Essex County.  This one's a lot more controversial, and it passed by a much narrower margin.

BM: This is interesting.  This kind of shows, I think, that voters were actually paying attention, not just checking yes or no on their ballots.  You had more than a million people supporting the Raquette Lake swap, but fewer than 800,000 backed this other project which will allow NYCO to mine 200 acres of the forest preserve.  I think a lot of people heard that there were environmental and policy concerns here that made some people nervous.

MF: Right, this one divided environmentalists.  You had these smaller, newer groups like Adirondack Wild and Protect the Adirondacks pushing against this.  You had bigger groups like the Adirondack Council and the Adirondack Mountain Club supporting it.  How did that shake out?

BM:I think these small groups waged a pretty smart, low-budget campaign — they used a lot of social media, a lot of free news media.  And they clearly moved the needle. 

I spoke this morning with Peter Bauer with Protect the Adirondacks, who says he's convinced that this weakens environmental protections for the Park — and he's clearly dismayed that other green groups supported it.

"It clearly means when it comes to the forest preserve there's a difference in vision amongst the Adirondack environmental community. This is a serious fault line, clearly. And it's not the only fault line, there's been a number of them. Proposition five really laid that bare."

But in the end this was definitely a big win for groups like the Council and ADK, who helped push the NYCO land swap through the legislature and then supported it on the ballot.  The Adirondack Council's leader Willie Janeway issued a statement late last night calling this a "victory for the park" that will "foster vibrant communities and sustainable jobs."

MF: Finally, opponents of both of these deals have argued that it's not really clear yet exactly what lands will be purchased in these swaps.  There's been talk of the Marion River Carry in Hamilton County and lands along the Jay Mountain Wilderness.  But there are unanswered questions about which lands will be purchased and when that will happen.

BM: There is some uncertainty there and I think people will be watching this closely — especially in Essex County.  NYCO has promised to purchase roughly 1500 acres of land along the edge of the Jay Mountain Wilderness.  That's a plan that environmental groups and the state Conservation Department have endorsed.  And the ballot proposition does require them to spend at least a million dollars acquiring new lands for the Park as part of this deal.  But until that land is purchased and handed over, I think critics especially but also those green groups that supported the swap will be following this very closely.

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