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This 200-acre parcel of forest preserve land known as Lot 8 is likely to be mined under a deal that approved by voters last week.  The issue has sharply divided green groups.  Photo: Dan Plumley, Adirondack Wild
This 200-acre parcel of forest preserve land known as Lot 8 is likely to be mined under a deal that approved by voters last week. The issue has sharply divided green groups. Photo: Dan Plumley, Adirondack Wild

"Serious fault line" splits Adk green groups

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Green groups in the Adirondacks remain bitterly divided following last week's vote over the NYCO minerals land deal.

Voters across the state narrowly approved the controversial project.

It will allow NYCO minerals to expand its mining operations in the Essex County town of Lewis onto roughly 200 acres of forest preserve land.

Now a fierce war of words has erupted between green groups, with some environmental leaders lobbing accusations of unethical behavior and dishonesty.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

I think pandora's box in many way has been opened here and it's going to be tough to close it
Last summer, Assemblyman Dan Stec from Queensbury was trying to push the NYCO land deal through the state legislature, hoping to get it onto November’s ballot.

At the time, he pointed to what he described as an important and surprising alliance.  The measure was gaining support from Democratic leaders in the Assembly because of key support from environmentalists.

"We needed to get the support from as many of the environmental groups as possible, but especially the two big ones in the Adirondacks, the Adirondack Council and [the Adirondack Mountain Club]", Stec said.

The NYCO deal passed the legislature on a bipartisan vote and made it on the ballot.  At the time, the Adirondack Council’s John Sheehan said his organization viewed the land deal as a win for the Park and its open space. 

NYCO would gain access to two hundred acres of forest preserve land for its wollastonite mining operation.

In exchange, the company would purchase at least $1 million worth of new land that would be added to forest preserve, including parcels on the edge of the Jay Mountain Wilderness.   

Sheehan also pointed to the fact that NYCO and local elected officials view the project as crucial to the local economy.

"This is a different kind of a park," he said.  "Taking into consideration what happens in communities and how they can fit into the economic picture is always something we want to do."

The Adirondack Mountain Club also backed the deal, as did the New York League of Conservation Voters. 

Neil Woodworth, with the Adirondack Mountain Club, says his organization concluded that the NYCO deal is in the best interest of the Adirondack forest preserve.  (Photo:  Mark Kurtz)
Neil Woodworth, with the Adirondack Mountain Club, says his organization concluded that the NYCO deal is in the best interest of the Adirondack forest preserve. (Photo: Mark Kurtz)
Neil Woodworth, executive director of ADK, says his organization vetted the project carefully and decided years ago that it worth supporting.

"This isn't something we decided two months ago, or six months ago," Woodworth said.

With backing from major green groups, Proposition 5 passed last week by a relatively narrow margin, with 53% of voters approving the deal. 

In the days after the vote, ADK, the Council and the League of Conservation Voters published an open letter calling the outcome “a win” for the Park.

But those groups have also faced increasingly harsh words from environmental leaders who fought to defeat Proposition 5.  One of the most outspoken is Dan Plumley with a group called Adirondack Wild.

"Basically what we've seen here is a commitment of certain organizations [in their support for] 'forever wild," Plumley argued.

In his own open letter, Plumley accused environmentalists who supported Proposition 5 of weakening constitutional protections for the Park’s wild lands, accusing ADK and the Council of what he described as “ethical failures.”

"I feel that they've lost their way," Plumley told NCPR, describing them as "politically compromised."

Speaking the morning after the vote, Peter Bauer with Protect the Adirondacks, also spoke of deep divides within the Park’s 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 5 really laid that bare."

Peter Bauer heads Protect the Adirondacks.  NCPR file photo
Peter Bauer heads Protect the Adirondacks. NCPR file photo
Bauer described the NYCO deal as an outright sale of forest preserve land to a private corporation and he accused ADK and the Council of helping to set a dangerous precedent.

"I think pandora's box in many way has been opened here and it's going to be tough to close it," he said.

I think pandora's box in many way has been opened here and it's going to be tough to close it
There have been feuds and divides in the Adirondack green community before.  But the rhetoric following the NYCO vote has been more fierce, more openly confrontational.

Neil Woodworth, with the Mountain Club, pushed back against the idea that his group had collaborated in setting a risky precedent for use of the Park’s wildlands. 

"We have used the constitutional amendment process to exchange land with International Paper.  We used the constitutional process to allow National Grid to use land on the forest preserve to run a power line."

Woodworth said he hopes to see at least 1500 acres of new open space added to the Park as part of this deal. 

He described this bitter battle of words as a case of different environmental activists reaching different conclusions about the pros and cons of a complicated project.

"There's anger, there's hurt feelings, that's an unfortunate state of affairs," he acknowledged.  But he said there were "obviously substantive issues where there were disagreements."

William "Willie" Janeway says green groups won't always agree on conservation issues. Photo: Adirondack Council
William "Willie" Janeway says green groups won't always agree on conservation issues. Photo: Adirondack Council
That view was echoed by Willie Janeway, executive director of the Council, who argued that the split over NYCO represented a principled parting of the ways.

"Not all the environmental organizations in the Adirondacks are the same.  We have different strategies, we sometimes take different approaches to protecting the Park.  But we all share a passion and a love for the Park," Janeway said.

In part, this split reflects a new willingness of some of the larger environmental groups like the Council, ADK to work with local elected officials.  Those groups have partnered on projects like the Common Ground Alliance.

That flexibility has drawn praise from elected officials like Assemblyman Dan Stec and Senator Betty Little.  It has also meant a less confrontational tone in the Park’s debates.

But Dan Plumley, with Adirondack Wild, says a lot of rank-and-file environmentalists think the NYCO deal simply went too far.

"If 'forever wild' means it's only temprary, then we've lost our richest conservation legacy," Plumley said, adding "that is the cudgel that we're picking up and going forward with today."

One question going forward is whether the NYCO dispute will provide an opening to smaller, newer environmental organizations like Protect and Adirondack Wild that have struggled to carve out a niche for themselves in the Park.

Plumley said he's heard from many supporters of ADK and the Adirondack Council who broke ranks with those organizations to back Adirondack wild's position on NYCO.

"I for one am disgusted that my Adirondack Mountain Club dues were applied in support of Proposition 5," wrote long-time Adirondack guide book author Bill Ingersoll.

Commenting as part of a debate in the Adirondack Almanack, Ingersoll said that he plans to "cut off my ties with ADK" because of the NYCO issue.

"I have one remaining November commitment for the club, and then I am done," he wrote.  "My membership will not be renewed in 2014."

I for one am disgusted that my Adirondack Mountain Club dues were applied in support of Proposition 5.

I have been an ADK member since 1999, and an active member of the conservation committee since 2003. I served as the Wildlands Stewardship Chair from 2003 – 2010, and as the Iroquois Chapter Conservation Chair from 2003 – 2013. I have volunteered countless hours compiling newsletters, making presentations, visiting chapters to promote stewardship, leading outings, and helping to shape conservation policy.

But after a night’s rest I’ve decided to cut off my ties with ADK. I have one remaining November commitment for the club, and then I am done. My membership will not be renewed in 2014.

- See more at: http://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2013/11/open-letter-adirondack-council-adk-league-conservation-voters.html#comments

I for one am disgusted that my Adirondack Mountain Club dues were applied in support of Proposition 5.

I have been an ADK member since 1999, and an active member of the conservation committee since 2003. I served as the Wildlands Stewardship Chair from 2003 – 2010, and as the Iroquois Chapter Conservation Chair from 2003 – 2013. I have volunteered countless hours compiling newsletters, making presentations, visiting chapters to promote stewardship, leading outings, and helping to shape conservation policy.

But after a night’s rest I’ve decided to cut off my ties with ADK. I have one remaining November commitment for the club, and then I am done. My membership will not be renewed in 2014.

- See more at: http://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2013/11/open-letter-adirondack-council-adk-league-conservation-voters.html#comments

I for one am disgusted that my Adirondack Mountain Club dues were applied in support of Proposition 5.

I have been an ADK member since 1999, and an active member of the conservation committee since 2003. I served as the Wildlands Stewardship Chair from 2003 – 2010, and as the Iroquois Chapter Conservation Chair from 2003 – 2013. I have volunteered countless hours compiling newsletters, making presentations, visiting chapters to promote stewardship, leading outings, and helping to shape conservation policy.

But after a night’s rest I’ve decided to cut off my ties with ADK. I have one remaining November commitment for the club, and then I am done. My membership will not be renewed in 2014.

- See more at: http://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2013/11/open-letter-adirondack-council-adk-league-conservation-voters.html#comments

Another question is how this fight will affect collaboration among green groups on other issues. 

"There has certainly been some strong language out there," acknowledged Bauer with Protect the Adironacks, but he added that he didn't think the NYCO dispute would poison future partnerships among activists.

Green groups face big issues in the coming months where the hope to present a unified front, ranging from proposed new clear-cutting rules for private in the Park to the classification of the Finch Pruyn timber lands.

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