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NYCO's Mark Buckley points to the border between mine-owned lands and the state forest preserve. Photo: Brian Mann
NYCO's Mark Buckley points to the border between mine-owned lands and the state forest preserve. Photo: Brian Mann

APA: NYCO may drill on forest preserve tract

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The state Adirondack Park Agency has approved a controversial proposal that will allow NYCO Minerals to conduct exploratory drilling on state Forest Preserve land.

The unanimous decision to amend the unit management plan for the Jay Mountain Wilderness took place Friday at the agency's monthly meeting in Ray Brook. It was opposed by environmental groups who questioned the legality of the proposal and may continue the fight by taking the APA to court.

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Reported by

Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

The move to amend the Jay Wilderness management plan comes after November's approval of a statewide constitutional amendment that authorized a land swap between the state and NYCO. Before the swap can occur, the company plans to conduct test drilling for wollastonite on a 200-acre parcel of state land, known as Lot 8, next to its existing mine in the town of Lewis.

Environmentalists have said 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. They've argued that there was nothing in the constitutional amendment that specifically exempted the master plan or other state laws from the process.

APA counsel James Townsend countered Thursday that passage of the constitutional amendment overrides the master plan guidelines for wilderness, but does so in a limited way.

"The requirement of the case law is that the constitutional amendment does abrogate or nullify, it overrules inconsistent provisions of the statute," he said. "It has been overridden but not completely. It only needs to be overridden to the extent that it's necessary to carry out the intent of the constitutional amendment, which is to permit the exploratory activity."

APA commissioners like Richard Booth said they were comfortable that the agency was on solid legal ground to allow the exploratory drilling to take place.

"Obviously this is controversial," Booth said. "My reading of this is it seems to make sense to me, the strategy DEC's lawyers and Jim Townsend have come up with. This may well get litigated, and that's not a surprise. But I think, given the vote of the public, this is what the public anticipated would happen."

Environmentalists had also argued that the APA and state Department of Environmental Conservation failed to adequately inventory the natural resources on Lot 8.

APA and DEC officials said the plan "avoids sensitive resources" including wetlands. About 1,200 trees would be cut in phases for the drilling to take place, but only 7 of the 200 acres would be disturbed.

Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve is one of several environmental groups that came together to voice concerns about this proposal. Adirondack Wild's David Gibson said he doesn't think as many voters would have supported the constitutional amendment if they knew other laws would be rescinded by their vote.

"You have all sorts of layers of law that are being cast aside here, and that creates a legal vaccum. By what standard is the agency going to determine this amendment conforms with the State Land Master Plan if you rescind the wilderness guidelines? What other standard is there? Their legal foundation for making these determinations has been swept away."

Asked if they'll continue the battle in court, Gibson said, they're reviewing their options.

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