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A crowd gathered in the Lewis town fire hall on Wednesday to hear details of NYCO's proposed expansion at two mines that would mean additional truck traffic and hours of operation.  Photo:  Brian Mann
A crowd gathered in the Lewis town fire hall on Wednesday to hear details of NYCO's proposed expansion at two mines that would mean additional truck traffic and hours of operation. Photo: Brian Mann

NYCO mining expansion in Adirondacks raises new questions

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Last November NYCO Minerals won a statewide ballot initiative that is expected to allow them to explore for a mineral called Wollastonite on 200 acres of the Adirondack forest preserve in the Jay Mountain Wilderness.

That controversial project, involving a chunk of land known as "Lot 8" is still on-hold, awaiting permits from New York state.

But the company is also moving forward with plans to expand two existing Wollasonite mines in the Essex County town of Lewis. Company officials say the project is needed to maintain NYCO's operations.

Green groups have raised questions about the plan's environmental impacts.

But this time, local residents and some local government officials say they too have questions about the impact on public safety and on quality of life

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NYCO unveils its plan

It’s a blistering hot day in the Lewis town fire hall where the Adirondack Park Agency has organized a public information and comment session. 

Lindsey Stevens with H2H Associates, a contractor working for NYCO Minerals, outlines details of the proposed expansion.  Photo:  Brian Mann
Lindsey Stevens with H2H Associates, a contractor working for NYCO Minerals, outlines details of the proposed expansion. Photo: Brian Mann
Up at the front project engineer Lindsey Stevens is describing a plan to reroute more than a thousand feet of one of the tributaries of Derby Brook.

"The stream was designed to not only mimic the habitat and the existing environment of that stream, but also the drainage area," she says.

I see the trucks come off the hill and I know the potential that these trucks can do if there's an accident. I think we need to be a little creative and find ways of addressing these concerns.
Stevens is with a company called H2H Associates that’s helping NYCO plan an expansion to its two mining operations in Lewis. The two mines sit roughly a mile apart at sites called Oak Hill and Seventy Mile.

The project would affect dozens of extra acres of woods and wetland. It would also mean an hour of extra operation– with mining and processing go on for eleven hours each day

Hundreds of additional truck trips would be made each week carrying ore from the two mines to NYCO’s processing plant in Willsboro.

Worries about noise and truck traffic

It’s that last part – the increase in truck traffic – that seems to be sparking the most concern among local residents. Tilben Groeschler lives in Lewis.

“It’s a 110% increase. What impact is that going to have on our roads?” he asked. “It’s just dangerous [already] with forty-five loads a day.”

Residents questioned whether the increased number of trucks could operate safely with school bus traffic on the roads. 

And they talked about noise from blasting and from operations at NYCO’s processing plant. "You cannot go out at night quite often and even hear night sounds because of [the plant]," complained Laura Smith lives in Willsboro.

"This is going to be increased every time you approve an expansion."

Supporters say the expansion will preserve local jobs

Set against those concerns is the argument that NYCO needs this expansion in order to compete with other Wollastonite producers around the world. 

"We must help [NYCO] to survive and thrive into the future," said Garry Douglas who heads the North Country Chamber of Commerce headquartered in Plattsburgh. 

Some local residents, including NYCO workers, agree. They say noise impacts and heavy truck traffic are acceptable if it means keeping the company's jobs. 

"We fed our family on hearing the droning noise in Willsboro and the truck traffic coming through," says Debbie James who has worked for NYCO for 25 years. "If we didn't have the NYCO income, we wouldn't have been able to give our family what we've given them."

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
Environmentalists want more review

This project has also drawn sharp criticism from environmental groups. Even some activists who supported the constitutional amendment allowing NYCO to explore for Wollastonite on state Park land say this expansion should be considered more carefully as part of a larger review of the company’s total operations. 

"Given the complexity and contentious nature of the [Lot 8] land swap, this permit complicates matters even more," says Rocci Aguirre, conservation director with the Adirondack Council.

The APA’s Tom Saehrig said yesterday that state officials are reviewing a wide range of concerns as they consider this permit. He said thirty-seven different considerations will be examined. "Noise, truck traffic, air quality and things like that will be assessed by the Agency," he says.

Photo: NYCO Minerals
Photo: NYCO Minerals
Local leader questions safety, jobs impacts

But some local government leaders say they too still have concerns about the project and say more work needs to be done tweak the design. "Right now I have mixed feelings on this," says David Blades Lewis town supervisor David Blades.

"I see the trucks come off the hill and I know the potential that these trucks can do if there's an accident. I think we need to be a little creative and find ways of addressing these concerns."

Blades possible solutions might include finding different routes for the trucks, or requiring them to slow their road speeds to 35 miles per hour. He says he strongly supports NYCO’s continuing operations in the town, describing the jobs and the company’s property tax payments as crucial. 

But Blades also suggested concern raised about this expansion directly affecting NYCO’s long-term survival may be overblown. "I don't think it's an issue, no. I think they [NYCO] use it as a way to maybe address their concerns and try to get community support."

NYCO is expected to receive state permits allowing them to explore for Wollastonite on Lot 8 in the forest preserve in the next few weeks

Meanwhile, the Adirondack Park Agency is accepting written comments on this other proposed expansion through July 16.

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