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Brett Lawson, superintendent at NYCO Minerals' Lewis mine, points in June 2013 toward a 200-acre parcel of state-owned land, above and behind the rock wall, where the company wants to mine wollastonite. Also pictured, from left, are NYCO employees Dawn Revette and Brian Shutts. Photo by Chris Knight, Adirondack Daily Enterprise
Brett Lawson, superintendent at NYCO Minerals' Lewis mine, points in June 2013 toward a 200-acre parcel of state-owned land, above and behind the rock wall, where the company wants to mine wollastonite. Also pictured, from left, are NYCO employees Dawn Revette and Brian Shutts. Photo by Chris Knight, Adirondack Daily Enterprise

APA takes up disputed Jay mining plan

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The Adirondack Park Agency will consider a controversial proposal to amend the management plan for the Jay Mountain Wilderness area this week.

The change would make the plan consistent with a constitutional amendment New York voters approved in November, letting NYCO Minerals conduct exploratory drilling for wollastonite on a 200-acre parcel of Forest Preserve land in the town of Lewis.

The APA says the amendment repeals wilderness guidelines that would otherwise prohibit NYCO's drilling operations, but a coalition of environmental groups is urging the APA to drop the proposed amendment.

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Reported by

Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

The exploratory drilling would determine how much wollastonite is on the parcel so the state can accurately appraise its value as part of a swap for other Forest Preserve lands.

There was nothing in the constitutional amendment... about subjugating or somehow exempting the State Land Master Plan. --Peter Bauer, executive director, Protect the Adirondacks
But Adirondack Wild, Protect the Adirondacks, the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Atlantic States Legal Foundation, in a joint letter to the agency, argue that the cutting of corridors for machinery, road building, drilling and use of motor vehicles in the wilderness violates the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.

"There was nothing in the constitutional amendment that was approved about subjugating or somehow exempting the State Land Master Plan or other state environmental laws from the process," said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks.

He said there was no enabling legislation accompanying the constitutional amendment that spelled out what its implementation process would be.

"Our worst fears were realized when the state came out and said, 'Look, we really don't have to adhere to a number of existing laws because of this constitutional amendment,'" Bauer said. "We fundamentally disagree with that, and there's a lot of legal analysts around the state who disagree with that as well."

Even the Adirondack Council, which had pushed for approval of the constitutional amendment, has questioned the state's argument. In a May 30 letter to APA Chairwoman Lani Ulrich, Council Deputy Director Diane Fish said the legal documentation to back up the agency's stance is "sorely lacking" and cites "limited case law."

These questions were raised in many of the more than 3,800 public comment letters submitted to the agency, most of them emailed form letters from environmental groups. Agency staff, in a summary of public comment included in the agenda for this week's meeting, countered that the constitutional amendment "overrides the [State Land Master Plan] guidelines for wilderness."

Fred Monroe, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, said the Constitution is "the supreme law of the state." He believes it trumps any other regulations, including the State Land Master Plan.

"When a constitutional amendment is approved by the majority of the people who voted on it in the state, I think they expect to see it carried out," he said. "And I think it's quite clear that it can't be carried out without the exploratory drilling."

The legality of the proposed UMP amendment isn't the only thing environmentalists are concerned about. They also argue that the APA and DEC have failed to adequately inventory the natural resources on the parcel.

The draft amendment is scheduled to come before the APA's State Land Committee Thursday afternoon at the agency's headquarters in Ray Brook.

Reporter Chris Knight's contributions courtesy of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

 

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